Pique'n yer interest 

Selling you to the highest bidder. Or, You’ve just been Facebooked

Ever wanted to see George W. Bush do a keg stand or a younger Pierre Elliot Trudeau in flagrante delicto ? How about Barack Obama puffing a joint?

Sure, these things happened, but in the passage of time, as these men moved up the political ladder and claimed leadership careers, the pictures of their youth have all but disappeared. It's almost like they popped out of the womb wearing navy blue suits, smiling for press cameras, and handing out business cards.

But don't despair. The long wait for more political scum is almost over. While the '08 Canadian and American elections rumbled slightly down and dirty, the ones in the next 20 years are set to blow your mind. The Era of Outrageous Political Dirt is about to dawn. Get ready to pull out your popcorn and kick up your heels. Just as soon as my generation turns into the 40-plus crowd.

See, when I signed up for Facebook at the age of 21, only people enrolled in Canadian or American universities could become members. It was a fun but useless website. That is, unless you spent a lot of time posting party pictures. (Pictures that you wouldn't necessarily show your mom, or your boss, or the entire Internet community.)

Ah, but now we are three-years into the future, and that tiny social networking site has grown to accommodate 175 million active users. It's a machine that, like my cell phone, has become an essential component of my day-to-day life. It's so ingrained in the way I communicate that if someone broke into my account and read my messages, they could track my relationships, fears and future plans. They could blackmail me five times over. And, if they had an entrepreneurial spirit, they could figure out what I wanted to buy and advertise directly to my wants.

Which is happening.

Based on the skeletal information I have posted about myself (age, relationship status, location), I now receive ads about concerts in Vancouver, wedding planners in Whistler, and weight loss programs in British Columbia.

In the public relations world, I think this is called "Targeted Advertising." To the rest of us, it's called "Invasive." But I get why companies do it. It works, in a perverse way. I even hear Tourism Whistler, Whistler Blackcomb and the Whistler Chamber of Commerce are jumping on the bandwagon. Good on them for seizing the opportunity.

What keeps me up at night is the fact I have also thrown my trust 100 per cent into the hands of fellow 24-year-old Mark Zuckerberg.

I am assuming this creator of Facebook Inc. - a man I have never met - has his integrity intact. That he won't allow some advertising shmuck at Starbucks to peruse my "private" messages or casually flip through my photos to find out what I did last summer. (Not that I think the Ad Man would really care about my exploits at Pemby Fest. But I posted those photos with the assumption that only my friends could see them.)

Yet my faith is based on thin air. And it was thrown into question this month when Mr. Mark and his ritzy Palo Alto gang added a new clause to Facebook's terms of service: even if you delete your Facebook account, the company will retain your content.

Said another way, by blog Consumerist: "Anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later."

Facebook users protested vehemently, and Mark quickly replied: "In reality, we wouldn't share your information in a way you wouldn't want." Within a few days, the company reverted back to its original terms of service.

I respect the way Mark reacted. Yet I'm still left with a feeling of - je ne sais quoi - distrust.

I realize I have no idea how Facebook shares my personal information with advertisers. And even if I did have a grasp on the way my details are transmitted in cyberspace, I have no security Facebook's policy won't change next year, or tomorrow, since there are no legal principles to dictate who owns "my" information.

But at the same time, here I am sitting in 2009, making a conscious choice to put more information out there. More information for my mother, Bob Barnett, and an ad representative with Apple to see. And - no matter what - I probably won't shut down my account. FB has become too entwined in my social fabric. I have a sneaking suspicion most of my friends (okay fine, my acquaintances) probably won't shut down their accounts either.

So, to hell with it. If it's not going to snow, play in the sun. If your private life is no longer private, revel in the publicity. And when my generation starts scooping up leadership jobs in 20-years-time, enjoy the entertaining show of "lost" party photos that's sure to unravel.

Baby, we're in the thick of Web 2.0, and no one can make sense of this new landscape.


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