The Web Cold War and Data Race

Facebook doesn’t like it when you don’t use their own “Like” buttons. German news site Heise serves these buttons from their own servers.

Facebook views this as a violation of their terms. Their public reasoning is that it’s too easy to trick users this way, which is true. The other side of it is that when these buttons aren’t embedded in the official Facebook way then they don’t collect data on their users and how they use the regular, open web.

The argument here is that FB like buttons track what you do and where you go on the web even when you don’t click on them, and that’s evil. Facebook has you in their walled garden and never wants you to leave. They want you to bring the garden with you.

But isn’t every big web company doing something like this?

Take Google, Bing, Yahoo, and even Amazon through both their store and Kindle platform. Everybody has the potential to collect tons of data on you and abuse it. But I get this dirty feeling when Facebook does it because I think they could do the most harm to privacy and the open web.

When a site loads a Facebook iframe for the like button and puts a cookie on your computer how much phoning home does that do to tell Facebook things like what ads would be relevant to you, and which ones you’re most likely to click, what people you should be friends with?

And now they want to become your main means of communication if they aren’t already. It’s not enough that they know your interests, hobbies, who you know, how you know them, what brands you most admire, which pages you go to, whose profiles you go to, which photos you’re looking at, where and when you took those photos, what geographic locations you’ve been to, what links you click, and what you do all over the web. Now they want to replace and become your email, chat, video conferencing, and text messaging utilities.

That’s a lot of data for a company to have and that’s a lot of potential for them to abuse it.

But they aren’t alone. There is a cold war happening online right now for your information and it revolves around getting you to click on ads in sidebars and purchase things.1

For site owners this means two things:

  1. If you care about increasing your page views in the short term use the Facebook like button.
  2. If you care about the privacy of your readers (not to mention how fast your site loads) don’t use a Facebook like button or any other embedded share button.

Go to almost any site that relies on advertising revenue from thoughtless Google Adsense placements and you’ll see what their values are.2

  1. Let’s ignore the Minority Report comparisons for now…surely that could happen, but I’m not smart enough to talk about them. 

  2. Makes me wonder how much longer until you see Facebook serving ads outside of their walled garden.