Friday, September 30, 2011

FBPAC: Something not to "like" about Facebook

The debate about Internet privacy has been swirling around for a long time.

For example, most people know that search engines like Google and Yahoo track what Web sites you visit when you're surfing online. And, people know these companies use this information to serve up context-based online advertising provided by them, which earns them money.

This all has led some people to be uncomfortable with the amount of diverse information these companies amass about people (which is even greater if you also use these sites for things like your email, contacts and document cloud storage).

But this week, the Internet privacy issue took a new turn when social media giant Facebook announced that it is forming a political action committee called "FBPAC."

According to The Hill, sources at Facebook confirm that the purpose of FBPAC will be to support political candidates who promote economic innovation and information sharing.

On the one hand, this announcement probably isn't that surprising. After all, Facebook already politicized itself earlier this year by hosting a town hall meeting for President Obama at its corporate headquarters in California. The company also has been aggressively pursuing high-profile Obama administration officials for jobs at Facebook.

But, on the other hand, we have to stop and wonder if there isn't something bigger going on here.

Facebook is the largest social networking site in the world with more than 800 million active users worldwide. Facebook knows boundless information about each of these people that would be of priceless value to political campaigns: their age, their likes and dislikes, and most importantly, their network of friends and associates. Let's face it, people basically post their life on Facebook.

Until now, Facebook has marketed itself as somewhat of a public service. People always understood that Facebook was a private company, but there has never been any suggestion of a political undercurrent. In fact, Facebook itself has very strict rules about its users using the site to promote their own personal business activities. If you use Facebook too aggressively to promote yourself, expect your account to be deactivated.

Now, however, it's Facebook itself that is at issue. Information is Facebook's currency, and campaigns pay limitless dollars to other to cultivate their own databases with this information so they can spread their message. But, if FBPAC so chooses, they could presumably benefit from all of this information for free, not to mention the possibility that FBPAC could promote candidates on Facebook.

We're sure Facebook would say they have no intention of mining and using data to promote its PAC activities. But, with recent revelations about Facebook's aggressive tracking of its users, can Facebook really be trusted?

More to the point, FBPAC would seemingly have access to an enormous cache of information about Facebook users which is being collected outside the governance of federal campaign finance law. Even if there is no personally-identifiable information involved and the information is related solely to trends and demographics, this information would be tremendously valuable to FBPAC and its supported candidates. However, Facebook would not be responsible for reporting on the collection and aggregation of this data through Facebook, only FBPAC would be responsible for reporting activities related to the use of such data for political activity.

In one word, all of this can be summed up as follows: scary.

1 comment:

  1. Don't forget that FB is also poised to become a publicly traded company. Its IPO was one of the most anticipated before the market tanked. So you get a two-fer. A PAC, post-Citizens United, and an infusion of literally billions in cash coming its way. They hired Gibbs to influence Democrats now. When the GOP wins, they'll hire Republicans and lavish them with PAC dollars to insure the government doesn't place limits on the information they can gather and how they can use the info. That's what PACs are for.


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