When Mark Zuckerberg stood on stage last week to introduce Facebook's latest upgrades, the social media mogul essentially offered this deal to his 750 million (and growing) users: Hand over your data, your life, your ... soul. And enjoy eternal "like" in the social media universe.
Since 2004, many of us have been happily paying for this free network with the bits and bytes of our lives. Our reward: An instant source of birthday greetings and thumbs-up affirmation of every status update. It's been an intoxicating wave of friending, fans, likes and tags. Rolling out now, a new "Timeline" format promises to document the entire history of our lives, or as much of it as we're willing to share — and we generally share too much.
Our profiles will turn into slick digital scrapbooks. The Timeline will probably appeal to the narcissist in most of us, but it's another new feature that marks the real sobering crossroads. It means that much of what you do online — listen to music, watch videos, read news stories — will be available directly through Facebook. One-stop shopping, or listening or viewing.
That's convenient. But Facebook, mostly through your "likes" — and with its growing list of partners, including Netflix, Spotify and The Washington Post — will track all of your shopping, listening and viewing and identify patterns so that it can suggest more things to buy, listen to or view. Then, because this is a social network, all of your shopping, listening and viewing will be announced immediately to your friends. You'll contribute to those valuable market-research patterns without even noticing.
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Market research is nothing new. The concentration of data in the hands of one company is, though, and it should raise concern. The data (and those patterns) provided by his 750 million users — us — is marketing gold that will be parlayed into enormous financial gain for Facebook and its partners. Shouldn't Zuckerberg be paying us?