The information your post on your Facebook profile is making plenty of money for a number of companies.
Thanks to Facebook's Open Graph API (which simplifies the development of third-party applications that interoperate with the social networking site) and social plug-ins (which essentially splash Facebook's 'Like' button all over the internet), people who are interested in your data are getting a chance at a much choicer cut of it.
Additionally, Facebook's Instant Personalisation Pilot Program, which the social network introduced this spring, was the wake-up call for many users who had been ignoring the concerns of privacy watchdogs. In response, Facebook updated its privacy settings in late May, to some praise - and confusion.
Read on to see who's getting a look at what you do on Facebook. You're sharing more than you think - and you might be surprised at what your data is worth.
It goes without saying that Facebook has unrestricted access to everything you do relating to its site, and its growing collection of profile data, preferences, and connections is prompting some experts to estimate the value of the site beyond the GDP of some countries.
For instance, a Mashable article reported that SharesPost, a marketplace for shares in privately owned companies, suggested an $11.5bn value for Facebook, versus a $1.4bn value for Twitter and a $1.3bn value for LinkedIn.
"You've filled out the biggest survey in the world for Facebook, and you didn't even know it," says Cappy Popp, founder and principal of Thought Labs, whose Doorbell application is one of the top 100 most-used apps on Facebook.
"You can't put a price on it because there's never been anything like it," Popp says of the user data that Facebook could accumulate over the next few years.
A quick look through the Website Openbook, which allows users to search for embarrassing Facebook status updates that anyone can view, shows the volume of people whose accounts are set to broadcast status updates to everyone. Some Facebook status updates reveal far too much.
For instance, a search for 'cocaine' or 'drunk' in Openbook's search field yields status updates such as 'Cocaine is a man's best friend' and 'I'm so drunk right now need to go to bed'. (Note: Despite its resemblance, Openbook is not part of Facebook.)
Are these updates just jokes? Are they statements taken out of context? They could be either. But slapped next to a name, gender, and profile picture (information that Facebook requires to be public), they create an impression. And it could cost you.
Just ask Natalie Blanchard, who in November 2009 was fighting to have her health benefits reinstated by her employer's insurance company. The Canadian woman was being treated for depression, but Manulife Financial questioned her health claim after seeing Facebook photos of Blanchard enjoying herself at a party and on the beach.
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