Why Facebook is selling you out -- and won't stop

Facebook and its developers could bring in as much as $1 billion this year; only a bozo would think that Mark Zuckerberg will give that up to protect the privacy of his users

My buddy Robert X. Cringely wonders if Facebook is evil or merely incompetent. That's an easy one: both -- not to mention arrogant and greedy. But how surprising is that? Facebook is in business to make money, whether it's from advertising or the increasingly attractive treasure trove of third-party apps. Never mind that "don't be evil" stuff. Mrs. Zuckerberg's boy Mark wants to be a billionaire for real -- not just on paper.

You guys out there in cyber ville know all that. But I guess I have to remind you of something once said by the late Jimmy Doohan in his role as Scotty on "Star Trek": "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

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Facebook has fooled us not just once, but over and over again, blithely exposing users' private information to any advertiser or creep who happens to get interested. It's a tired drama. The company messes up, it gets caught, the media freaks out, the company apologizes. Then the cycle starts all over, as it did this week when the Wall Street Journal learned that it's not just Facebook harvesting personal data -- Facebook's platform developers are in on it as well. That data is being shared with advertisers and Internet tracking companies, whether or not users have opted for privacy. 

What's more, Facebook has apparently decided it's OK for Sarah Palin to use her Facebook page to wage a political crusade, but it's not OK for grassroots activists organizing boycotts against large corporations like Target and BP. For these and a multitude of other transgressions, Boy Billionaire Zuckerberg is the Tech's Bottom Line Bozo of the Month.

But he has to share that distinction with you, the Facebook user. Jeez, don't you get it? Facebook is not your, well, friend. So why do you persist in making Zuckerberg and his investors even richer?

Selling your privacy
The root of Facebook's most recent transgression (allowing third-party apps to harvest user IDs) is greed -- greed for the millions of dollars that app developers are pulling from the site. Facebook wants a piece of that action, and if privacy, freedom of speech, or any other trivial concern users may have get in the way, that's just too bad.

The mechanics of this outrage have been well publicized. Simply put, something called a referrer URL comes to life whenever you click on a hyperlink or an ad. The referrer tells the page you're going to what page you've come from. That happens all over the Web, including here on InfoWorld, where we use it to analyze traffic.

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