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Think you know Facebook? The site is evolving into a deeply integrated network, working with other Web sites, applications, and games. The expressed goal of these connections is to make it easier to use, connecting not just people but also their interests to ensure that each user has a totally customized experience on the Web. But some of its tactics are upsetting these customized users as well.

Facebook currently boasts approximately 400 million users; it is the fourth most visited site in the United States, where users spend an average of 6.5 hours per month. It earns more than $1 billion annually in advertising revenues, and the numbers are growing as Facebook increases the relevance of its advertising to users and advertisers.

With Open Graph for example, businesses can use Facebook users’ information and target them specifically. Yelp can view a Facebooker’s preferences, whether listed on Facebook, cited on Yelp, or based on its access to the user’s Pandora ratings, and offer related personalized information. The Facebook profile then includes the user’s favorite music and favorite restaurants. IMDB is adopting a similar partnership.

Users now see social plug-ins, news feeds that are replicated and viewable on the actual business’s site. For example, if one of your friends visits CNN.com, a small Facebook newsfeed on the screen shows her Facebook friends who have shared or liked another CNN article. This friend can easily share content using the simple “Like” button that appears on more and more sites. Clicking “Like” shares that information automatically with Facebook friends and appears on the Facebook newsfeed.

However, Facebook faced some severe criticism when it developed these programs as “opt-out” privacy elements, such that users had to go back and change their privacy settings if they wanted these choices shared only with their friends, not with any user (including other marketers) browsing throughout Facebook.

Discussion Questions

  1. How is Facebook changing?
  2. Was Facebook right to make its new privacy details opt-out versions?

Jessica Vascellaro, “Facebook Wants to Know More than Just Who Your Friends Are,” The Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2010; Samuel Axon, “Facebook’s Open Graph Personalizes the Web,” Mashable.com, April 21, 2010.