Is Facebook the New Stasi?

I am quite often intrigued by the Facebook world that we now live in and not having a Facebook account often makes me wonder if I am some form of social outcast? However, many people I know seem to have forgotten the art of the phone call, and some are even now forgetting the art of the text message – which lets face it seems to feel a bit like a thing of the past. Especially when you look at things such as iMessage and WhatsApp – which in the case of the latter is texting in a kind of social network.

I do kind of have a nicer view of LinkedIn – “the professional persons social network”, well at least we like to think so. However, what I like about Linkedin is that it is so dull you really only use it for personal stuff. This means that although I do have friends on it, we rarely discuss anything vaguely personal through it which means unlike Facebook and Google+ they don’t as yet have the equivalent amount of information as the East German Stasi on me. Which come to think of it is one reason I find the Facebook fetish so interesting. We volunteer so much work, personal and even drunken information to Facebook that it makes the Stasi paper files and manual system look really quite pathetic. People do it on the basis of getting something in return e.g. the ability to stay in touch (with often) remote friends. That idea I like, but really we do give a lot away for the right to do that? Also with Facebook now being listed on the stock exchange one can only imagine the returns that investors expect. This can only mean that Facebook will more readily use personal data in ways that we may or may not find acceptable. Right now the average US Facebook user generates around $9 of income for the company, I would imagine this can only grow; so if you find it invasive or worrying now, imagine what it would be like when we are worth $100 or even more?

The power of social networking is no doubt clear to many, but increasingly we in research who are developing the next generation of concepts will rely on platforms such as Facebook as a backdrop to many of our systems. In future therefore Facebook may be the store for almost everything we do from our car journeys, to financial data through to shopping and work. It will essentially be our living history, a list of our deeds or misdeeds. Also as has already been seen it has been used by employers to screen people who are up for promotion or who have applied for a job. In essence it is already doing the same thing that the Stasi and many other similar organisations did e.g. making it easier to keep out undesirables.

If the East German leaders of the past were still alive I am sure they would have loved Facebook; although they would probably only have allowed users from inside East Germany to use it.

About Rod McCall

Rod McCall is a researcher in the field of human-computer interaction in areas such as augmented reality, mobile gaming in-car systems and virtual environments. He has a passing interest in economics after not being entirely convinced by the rubbish presented as fact during lectures on that particular subject while at uni.
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