We Did It Again
six months ago there was this big kerfuffle on Facebook; somebody
looked at their new terms of service and OMG OMG!!! Facebook
was trying to steal everybody’s stuff! There was an instant
Facebook revolution with people forming massive Facebook groups
dedicated to hating the evilness that was Facebook. Except
there was no real problem. There was some boneheaded new language
in the terms of service that if read very, very broadly might
have implied some malevolent intent, but that language got
nuked fast when the uproar hit. And hopefully a lawyer got
spanked. So the whole episode was a little silly.
Well, it just happened again. Late last week, people started
posting dire messages that Facebook was allowing third parties
to grab users’ pictures for advertisements, and included a
detailed set of instructions for changing some setting in
your Facebook account to stop Facebook from doing this awful
thing. I’d gotten about 30 of these messages in two days last
week (I’m still getting them today), and it didn’t make any
sense, so I checked it out.
Once again, this just wasn’t happening. Facebook wasn’t taking
your stuff. A quick look at the urban-legend site snopes.com
led me to an official Facebook blog that explained what was
really going on. Apparently, there’d been some bad behavior
by a few third-party apps that were grabbing people’s images,
but Facebook is pretty diligent in chasing those creeps down
and kicking them off the island. In fact, the latest miscreants
were long gone before the rumor mill cranked up last week.
As explained in the blog (and as born out, if you really look
at the settings options you just hysterically changed), Facebook
sells advertisements (remember, somebody has to pay for the
damn thing you spend all day fooling around on) and it allows
users to say they’re “fans” of the companies posting the ads,
just like you can be a “fan” of movies, musicians, historical
societies, and all sorts of insanely stupid stuff. And when
you look at the ad on Facebook, you can see which of your
FB friends are fans of the company posting the ad. If you
indicate you’re a “fan” of an ad, your FB friends will know
about that. So you get to see people you “know” (at least
hypothetically) endorsing a product, and that could be pretty
useful information. But the utility of this has now been compromised
by another stunning example of stampeding, paranoid group-think.
The settings “fix” flying around Facebook removes your endorsement.
On the balance, though, I think this is a good thing. Social
networking systems, search engines, cloud computing, and simply
logging on to the Internet exposes every one of us to all
kinds of breaches of personal privacy. There’s really no such
thing as being too paranoid about that, and it’s good to see
that folks are being vigilant about it. Albeit sometimes a
Moving on, a couple of recent studies are claiming that kids
aren’t illegally downloading nearly as much music as they
were just a year ago. But they aren’t legally downloading
either. And they certainly aren’t listening to less music.
According to the studies, they’re listening to online streams.
The teenage kids I know haven’t bought a CD in years, and
most wouldn’t bother buying downloads for 99 cents. Why should
they? They can listen online for free, or like-free. The only
reason they need MP3s at all is to stock their iPods, and
that’s a big annoyance. Once a mobile, wireless listening
alternative comes along that makes sense to them—and you can
be sure it’ll come in through their cell phones—they’re gonna
These kids expect, and are demanding, the ability to push
a button and have their favorite music come out of a little
thing they can put in their pocket. “Ownership” of music is
irrelevant; convenience is the thing. Whether it’s free, like
ad-supported sites MySpace, Pandora, and the coming-soon (and
by all reports, fabulous) Spotify, or low-cost subscription
sites like Rhapsody and the coming-soon (and watch out for
this one) Choruss, “music in the air” is moving fast, especially
among teenagers. Pretty soon, the 60 GBs of music I store
on my hard drive is gonna look as antiquated as the box of
vinyl tucked away in my basement.
As The New York Times’ Brad Stone pointed out last
week (and as theorists like Choruss’ Jim Griffin have been
saying for years), this could work out great for everybody.
Why? Because these online streaming sites pay the royalties
to record companies and songwriters that free downloaders
don’t. So the kids get what they want and the industry gets
what it wants. Not to get too warm and fuzzy here, but sheesh!