Evan and Gordon Talk: Facebook and Privacy

EVAN: So in spite of the fact that I voted for my topic of preference on last week’s poll, Facebook and privacy and whatnot won. Having bitterly admitted that, Gordon?

GORDON: While the topic of Facebook (or all social networking) and privacy certainly isn’t a new debate, it’s not one that’s lost its relevance either.

As we rely on the internet more and more as our primary means of communication and entertainment, how do we address the issue of having every little element of our lives dissected and sold to the highest bidder?-

EVAN: I mean, really, everyone has been the target more or less of having their information used by Facebook. Log on and check out those sidebar ads; every one has been tailored using the cookies of sites you’ve visited. Which is why mine are always StarCraft related, etc.

GORDON: First thing we gotta ask is- “Is this really a problem? Aint it better to have ads that are actually relevant to you, rather than yet another ****ing insurance commercial courtesy of Geico?”

EVAN: Ugh, Geico. How many ad campaigns can a single company have?

EVAN: Moving disgustedly along, that’s a very relevant point. I’m interested in video games, so to have sidebar ads about such things is not something I can really complain about.

GORDON: I’ve got a pretty aggressive adblock, so I’m fortunate enough not to have to deal with that; but the underlying assumption with that kind of thought is that ads are inevitable. That you can’t get away from ‘em, so you might as well try to get ones you like…

EVAN: Which is why, as you well know, I only thumbs up a select number of ad types on Hulu. Food, alcohol, video games, and certain movies.

GORDON: But with Hulu- you are the person in control. I mean, think of it this way: would you tolerate a guy going through your garbage so he can send you junk mail tailored to you?

EVAN: I’ve gotta think about that for a second . . . I mean, not getting junk mail about window/door services would be nice.

The whole “going through your garbage” thing definitely carries some different associations then simply tracking cookies. Maybe it’d be more like- a TV guy who follows you around when you shop, noting what you are and aren’t interested in.

GORDON: But that’s also flawed- in that scenario, you’re actually looking for stuff to buy….

EVAN: Well, you window shop, I mean- browsing, etc. Looking at what you look at, that sort of thing.

GORDON: So I’ve got this obnoxious guy following me wherever I go, listening in on my every word, and trying to sell me his wares without rest. Isn’t that one of the ironic punishments in Dante’s Inferno?

EVAN: Bringing this back to Facebook and whatnot, do we in general have a problem with the ads? I mean, they’re not the most obtrusive to begin with.

GORDON: Well, ads are only one example. What about your location?

EVAN: People want that stuff, though. It’s part of this new generation, tweeting where you are, statuses that read “I just had lunch with ______ at ______.”

GORDON: I’m not talking about when you state your location, I’m talking about when your location is pinpointed and used regardless of your awareness. Sexy Singles in Houghton being a prime example.

EVAN: Heh.

For context, Houghton is where we both attended college. It is so small it is not considered a town. It is a hamlet.

GORDON: The majority of the population- vast majority- is made up of the student body.

EVAN: Vast majority.

GORDON: Meaning that the town decreases by about 80% each summer.

EVAN: But those ads are all the same- they’re just slapping a different town [or hamlet] name onto whatever’s being advertised.

GORDON: But are you really okay with that? That not only your interests are out there, but your location as well? Regardless of your consent?

EVAN: As far as I can tell, it’s more eerie than anything else. And it goes from creepy to laughable when something like “Sexy Singles in Houghton” comes up.

GORDON: Now, as you are in Canada, this might not sound as relevant to your situation- but what about the gummint’ commin’ t’get’ ya?

I mean, there have been issues here in the States,  huge issues, with companies turning over personal information- including conversations- to law enforcement and security agencies without much (if any) process.

EVAN: Heh. “Gummint.” But yeah, that stuff has definitely happened. And seriously, what Facebook does with our personal information is very important.

GORDON: I guess it’s more or less the same for me- though I was a bit older, and having grown up in Syria (where they eventually blocked Facebook)- I never put anything on there I didn’t assume everyone could and would read.

Still do. Or don’t, rather.

EVAN: It’s interesting in that privacy settings are so much more advanced now though, in a way. If you don’t want people looking at even your profile pictures you can do that. Meaning that potential employers can’t use it as a legitimate check on future employees anymore.

GORDON: Now that  is messed up. We can all agree on that.

EVAN: Hm?

GORDON: Employers attempting to maintain control over their workers by monitoring their FB profiles, citing “character” as a reason or justification.

EVAN: Ah, that’s what you were getting at. So to some extent we’re in control of an aspect of our privacy on Facebook.

GORDON: No question. But speaking in a more general sense, what does that do to us as a people? As a society?

EVAN: Well, I for one am incensed when I want to look at a pretty girl’s profile pictures, and even though she clearly has them, I’m told that “there are no pictures in this album.” Bold-faced lies.

GORDON: You’re a pervert.

EVAN: My point stands.

GORDON: So we’re more dishonest with each other? We’re still ironing out the wrinkles in our old-world/cyber-world blend?

EVAN: Are we more dishonest with each other? I mean, if we’re really deconstructing this, the internet has made us more dishonest than we’ve ever been ever.

GORDON: Explain.

EVAN: Nothing we put online is necessarily true. Dating website profiles back me up on this.

GORDON: This is true. Are we then actually more skeptical and guarded despite the critics’ claims?

EVAN: Which are-

GORDON: The general spiel- the internet (social networking especially) is playing on our trust and making us more and more exposed for those who would make money off of us.

EVAN: Ah. Vulnerable, etc. I gotcha.

I’d say people in general are still naive enough to fall for obviously stupid ads [if they didn't work they wouldn't still be around]. But we are more skeptical as a generation, so really both are true.

GORDON: Fair enough.

EVAN: And we are exactly out of time.

GORDON: Remember to stop by next week for our discussion on the upcoming season of Community.

EVAN: Yes. It’s gonna be good. And I already know you’re going to end this with that Troy/Abed gif.

GORDON: I am indeed.

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