Social networking software

This is the Golden Age of Facebook Privacy

Well, it’s now official: Facebook is planning to offer shares to the public starting this Friday at $34 to $38 a pop. Get yours while they’re hot.

What does this mean for Facebook and your data? Everything. But what it mostly means is that Facebook will be under enormous pressure to post ever increasing revenue numbers every three months. And there is only one source of revenue for Facebook, ultimately: Your data.

As I noted last week, Abine Inc posted a cute little Val-You calculator that lets you suss out how much your personal data is worth to Facebook, depending on how often you use the network and your personal demographics. But those values are based on the revenues Facebook publicly announced last year – approximately $4 billion. When Facebook is a $40 billion company, your data could be worth almost ten times as much, depending on how many new users Facebook can add to the 900 billion already there.

And the only way to get that much more out of your data is to find new ways to use it. It’s not rocket science.

So the first thing Facebook is doing is tweaking its privacy – err, Data Use Policy -- to give the network a scosh more operating room, kind of like loosening your belt in anticipation of eating a big meal. You can read a redlined copy of the proposed changes here [PDF].

As Forbes blogger Kashmir Hill pointed out last week, tweaks to the Data Use Policy open the door to Facebook using your profile information to serve ads in places other than Facebook. In other words, if you click “Like” on the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Facebook page, you could end up seeing ads for Extreme Cheese Explosion on sites like CNN or the Washington Post.

(Note to readers: This blog post does not constitute an endorsement of Kraft food products. Note to self: I’ve really got to stop blogging right before lunch.)

Will Facebook at some point market your information to, say, dieting companies or insurance firms that are trolling for customers with an appetite for saturated fat products? At this point nobody can say.

Facebook also requires you to publicly reveal your gender, if that wasn’t already obvious from your name or photo, and your Timeline cover photo. And its policies note that there are some “stories” (like clicking Like on the Mac-n-Cheese page) that are public by default.

Facebook says it just needs your gender because “it allows us to refer to you properly,” but gender is also perhaps the biggest single factor in determining what ads to show you. And of course, if it wants to serve ads based on your Likes, it can’t have you hiding that data from the world.

Facebook has been pulling out all the stops in an effort to appear warm and fuzzy before the IPO hits. Facebook spokeshuman Andrew Noyes and Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan even hosted a Facebook Live Talk yesterday detailing the changes to Facebook’s policies and answering subscriber questions. The 30-minute session was more like a morning TV talk show segment about how great Facebook is at protecting your privacy.

(Hey, you’d be chipper too if you knew you were about to become a millionaire in a few days.)

They answered exactly one semi-difficult question (it was from me) about what Facebook is doing to protect people from spammy apps. Their answer? Facebook requires app makers to reveal what information they collect on install, post a privacy policy, and rely on the community to report app makers who aren’t following the rules. In other words, not much.

The two biggest privacy crimes Facebook commits are unchanged in the new policy. There is no simple way to keep others from tagging you in posts and photos; and apps installed by your friends can still get at some of your information without notifying you.

And yet, this is as good as it is likely to get on Facebook. So savor these last few days before Facebook goes public. Your Facebook data is now as private as it’s ever gonna be. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

Got a question about social media? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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