Facebook, once a small, "free" social networking site for
university undergraduates to share personal information, has
become a vast subdivision on the information super highway.
It is expected soon to reach a landmark figure of 500 million
Its value is put at about $20 billion and it is at the
vanguard of the social networking revolution, having
outlasted several other variations on the theme, notably
MySpace and Bebo.
It has taken the concept further than was dreamed possible a
mere six years ago when it was established by 20-year-old
university student Mark Zuckerberg - to the extent that users
today often appear to inhabit a different and somewhat
parallel universe to their non-wired counterparts.
But some facts transcend universes, and it is only now
beginning to dawn on Facebook habitues that a truly free
networking site might be closer to wishful thinking than
reality: even in the utopian realms of the Internet there is,
it seems, no such thing as a free lunch.
This much has become loudly apparent of late with the airing
of concerns about Facebook's privacy settings.
On Monday this week - "Quit Facebook Day" - Canadian
campaigners urged people worldwide to remove themselves from
They, and many others, were riled about the way in which they
felt their privacy was being purloined for profit.
Quite why they should have been so surprised is another
matter: you do not pay upfront to belong to Facebook, but the
company must make ends meet - and a tidy profit - somehow.
That "somehow" is no great secret.
The site sells advertising to companies tailored to the
defined demographics of its users.
The "footprint" they create in their Facebook activities is
like gold to advertisers and marketers who will pay
Just as it is naive for users who are careless with their
basic settings - for instance, as to who can access or
"participate" on their page - it is equally artless to be
disconcerted that information about them is harvested,
packaged and used for commercial ends.
There is substance, however, to the complaint that, at least
until last week when Mr Zuckerberg called a press conference
to announce new policies, the privacy settings on the site
were so complex and convoluted they required more than
average persistence and determination to understand and