Friends or Eyeballs?
25 January 2013

by tmartin on January 25, 2013

A FEW MONTHS AGO, I got an email that gave me pause.

“Did you know Eggland is using you to promote itself on Facebook?” asked my correspondent.

The Facebook story – so large it even spun off into a Hollywood movie – hardly needs retelling. Even the most marginally technical beings have heard about the company, which claims a billion (!) members.

If that’s not enough, it appears as a “share via” link every place you turn around and it can’t seem to keep itself out of the news.

In April last year, it threw a cool billion bucks to buy sizzlin’ hot photo sharing service Instagram and this January it made a splash with its new search service. It even managed to end 2012 by to bumping off Google and claiming the top slot as most used mobile application (

But remember that old saying: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is?

Facebook is “free.” You, and I, and cousin Sal and weird-Bob-from-9th-grade all signed up. It was, well. free.

Just like, once upon a time, network TV was “free.”

But of course TV wasn’t free. And Facebook isn’t either. Both come with a price — and I don’t think we’ve begun to see the real cost we pay to Facebook yet, although creepy little hints of it have begun to appear more and more frequently.

Take the new Graph Searches for example. Seriously, please take them because I don’t want anything to do with them.

Touted as the third pillar of the Facebook service, the new search makes it easy to create highly customized searches from within, search that draw on your page, your friend’s pages, you posts, your timeline, your groups, your likes …

On one hand, it offers a clever way to think about organizing information. But the power to comb through and combine anything with everything creates a structure that’s a bit disconcerting.

A fast-going-viral collection on tumblr ( shows the, uh, creative way topics can merge. Contributors might be going for off-beat humor or shock value with queries like: “Married people who like Prostitutes and these people’s spouses” or “Single women who live nearby and who are interested in men and like Getting Drunk”

But. But. These queries produce real results of real people, and the leap from the odd to the frightening follows a very short path.

Of course, we-the-users make this all possible by adding notes about restaurants visited, babies burped, margaritas mixed, and much more information than is good for any of us.

TMI! TMI! Too Much Information! Cover your ears!

We live in a culture where nothing is too personal, too private, or too unabashedly gross to not share. Who really wants to know the details about Fred’s stomach flu or a second by second run down of a hot date? Call me dreadfully old school, but some things just are not for public consumption.

We think we are sharing it with people we know but once that data is digital it takes on a life of its own. The privacy protections of the site lack clarity and seemingly changes with the weather. Besides, really, should we need to read documentation to figure out how to use them?

Facebook’s former marketing director and sister-of-Mark, Randi Zuckerberg, inadvertently proved that point when shared-with-friends Christmas family photos ended up reposted on Twitter because, well, private on Facebook turns out to be not so private.

Which leads directly to the whole notion of Facebook selling you off lock, stock, and barrel. On television, we give our eyeballs away in exchange for entertainment. Through advertising aggregation, we get packaged up and sold by networks and local stations alike.

On Facebook (and Google, for that matter) the anonymity of a TV viewer disappears. We aren’t just a demographic buried in a group: Females, 18-24, urban. Male, post-secondary education,49-54. No, instead we are an incredibly detailed set of likes, search histories, birthdays, schools attended, friends, workplace, text-of-comments.

Earlier in 2012, retail giant Walmart acquired Facebook’s social calendar application. It now owns birthdays, anniversaries and other events of Facebook users. In its use policy the company says that it:

… uses your information to provide products and services and to support core business functions. … We may combine all the information we collect. We may disclose your information within our corporate family of companies.

Facebook’s revenue model lies in advertising. Remember my Eggland email? Well, it seems that for one type of advertising, a page’s owner can buy names of those who “liked” the page and use those names to promote itself.

Hence, Eggland tells my “friends” that “Teresa likes Eggland,” making it looks like I’m promoting overpriced (if tasty) eggs, when I really only liked a recipe Eggland posted, a recipe for a yummy fast and gooey chocolate lava cake you can zap up in the microwave in a few moments.

Yes, in Facebook’s defense, you can – through some convoluted privacy process – hide your likes from everyone, including your friends. Which kinda’ defeats the point of sharing with friends, doesn’t it?

I am clearly not alone in my discomfort of this name-jacking. A recent Forbes article details how it all happens (, with a shudder.

Facebook’s purchase last month of Instagram garnered lots of attention for its price tag. It also turned heads when the new owner announced new terms of service for the popular application and it appeared that Instagram photos might become property of Facebook with a ‘you post it/we own it and can sell it as we want’ agreement.

Not only has Facebook monetized personal data, but it also appeared to be preparing to monetize personal content.

A day later, ducking a strong backlash, the company said that what it said wasn’t really what it meant — and did a quick backpedal.  The new revised terms of service went into effect this week.

However, the trend has not stopped. One backpedal does not a policy of privacy make. Facebook (& Google) play in social media for one reason alone: profit potential.

Day after day, we grow increasingly desensitized to the erosion of our privacy. We trade it away for a free platform to live our 15 minute of fame, sharing odd moments of our lives with “friends” and “friends of friends” and the marketing company down the street. Where does it stop?

For me, it stopped cold at Eggland.  After pondering the issues for a bit, I began to set my own use policies for sharing my professional life and my public life on Facebook, Google +, Linked In, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Even though I want to share acceptable details of my personal-side life with my real friends , and even though a digital platform makes that process quick and easy across time and space, I’ve come to realize that the cost of no-cost may well be too high.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is … and Facebook is no free lunch.


In the spirit of full disclosure, here’s the recipe that I “liked” – and that I do like.  Fast to throw together and, with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or a dash of whipped cream, just the thing for a winter night.

In mug or small bowl, mix together:

2 Tb flour

3 Tb sugar

2 Tb unsweetened cocoa

Add and mix in completely:

1 large egg

Add and mix in completely:

3 Tb milk

2 Tb canola oil

Lastly, stir in:

1/2 tea vanilla extract

2 heaping Tb chocolate chips

Zap for 2 minutes in microwave on high.

Happy eating!


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