Facebook reveals its evil plans

Facebook has announced it will start logging users' searches and track their real-world purchases. And so it begins

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Per the FT report, the companies anonymize the identities before matching up the email address you use on Facebook with the one you gave the local Piggly Wiggly supermarket.

The emails and other identifying information are made anonymous and collected into groups of people who saw an ad and people who did not. Datalogix compiles a report for Facebook and its advertisers to measure which creative approaches and demographic targeting persuade people to buy specific products offline.... So far, the two companies have measured 45 campaigns and in 70 per cent of cases, for every dollar a marketer spent on Facebook it earned an additional $3 in incremental sales....

The problem here is, of course, how anonymous that anonymization really is, who's doing it, and who could conceivably undo it if they wanted to. The FT story is mum on that, as is Facebook itself. Many security wonks have written about de-anonymization, but to quote my favorite, Bruce Schneier: "Anonymity is really, really hard -- but we knew that already."

It gets better. Facebook users can opt out of having their social networking activities married to real-world purchases, but they can't do it on Facebook. In fact, you'll have to search long and hard to find anything about this type of data collection on the social network that's all about sharing. If you want to opt out, you must go to Datalogix, fill out a form, and wait 30 days. And you'll have to do it for every member of your household.

Some folks may not mind having their Facebook accounts married to their Piggly Wiggly card. Hey, you might get 50 cents off on fabric softener. Other folks might mind, but can't be bothered to jump through the hoops required to untangle the Gordian knot of data that binds them to the online world.

Ultimately, it comes down to whether you trust Facebook and its advertising partners to keep your name and other personal information out of it. My advice? Don't trust any of them with your real information, if you can avoid it. Becoming a Facebook fake has never sounded better.

Are you faking it on Facebook? Why or why not? Post your thoughts below or email me: cringe@infoworld.com.

This article, "Facebook reveals its evil plans," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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