But none of this is new. Websites have logged user activity since the Internet's infancy. Google knows plenty about you by your search habits, the contents of your Gmail mailbox, and data gathered by other Google tools. The difference here is twofold: Facebook's tendrils reach into a bunch of other mainstream Websites, and unlike Google, the company seems determined to expose personal information to anyone who cares to look.
There was never a question of whether this kind of intense tracking would be possible, only when and under what guise. Back when every Website was an island, the data gathered was basically isolated to that site rather than centralized. It was compartmentalized and less complete. Hidden in plain sight is the fact that, courtesy of 400 million users, Facebook has become the grand central repository.
There are a few apps you can use to pull data out of Facebook for easy manipulation. Give Me My Data, for example, allows you to export a variety of information from your Facebook profile, but it's information you already have access to, such as your friend connections. A data export that displayed all the information Facebook has collected on you and the methods it used to gather that data would be far more interesting. Hey, if Facebook is all fired up to expose as much information as possible, what reason would it have to keep that info from the light of day?
Unfortunately, technological reality dictates that there's no way to prevent this sort of data collection. If you use Facebook or any other Website, you're contributing that information no matter what. The code on the site just needs to collect and store it, so all the bellyaching in the world isn't going to change anything. Unless strict legislation curtails what information can be gathered and stored, and constant monitoring is instituted, Facebook and others can continue on their merry way.
You might expect that there would be some sort of public outcry, but it appears that there aren't enough people upset by this to make a difference, unlike previous revolutions over Facebook's Beacon ad system. For example, quitfacebookday.com has only 4,000 committed quitters as of this writing. Compared to 400 million users, that isn't a lot of outrage.
Facebook may ultimately turn out to be a historical footnote, but if it manages to convince hundreds of millions of people that online privacy doesn't matter, it will be a chapter unto itself.
This story, "How I learned to stop worrying about privacy and love Facebook," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in privacy, and read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com.