Facebook's search for new sources of revenues continues unabated -- and this time, the company wants to target your own profile phtoos for inclusion in its database. That's a change from the previous system, in which users were only scanned if other people tagged them first. Your own profile photos weren't automatically added to the database in this fashion. According to Facebook, "Tag Suggest is a tool that helps Facebook
users tag their friends in photographs more quickly and easily -- something people love to do on Facebook."
The problem, of course, is that in the wake of Snowden's NSA unveils, it's not hard to see why a database capable of identifying tens of millions of people built on voluntarily provided data would be hugely interesting to every law enforcement agency under the sun. Thanks to the current design of our legal system, there's no way to prevent this information from spilling out into government databases -- what the NSA
wants, the NSA can get.
But there's a deeper problem here, that goes along with the direction Facebook has been headed for quite some time. Every time Facebook makes a decision like this, it's effectively increasing the degree to which you, the user, are monetized and expanding the ways in which your user data can be bought and sold to advertisers. If Facebook finds your photo next to the Eiffel Tower, the Chicago skyline, and the Grand Canyon, hey -- it can sell that information to travel agencies and target you with ads. If your photos show you standing with tons of cosplayers, there's an advertising niche for that. Do you have a profile photo of you hugging a dog? There's a niche for that.
The problem with all this marvelous personalized advertising is that it comes at the low, low price of your right to have a private life. A photo of you on vacation isn't actually a snapshot of your life anymore -- it's an image filled with 237 personalized elements, from the background location, the presence or absence of any equipment that might betray an interest in a specific field (swimming, biking, skiing), and a goldmine of data for selling you more things you don't need at prices you don't want. Are you kissing a member of the same sex on the beach? Here's an ad for a gay cruise. Standing on a mountain slope? Have a timeshare ad.
I don't blame Facebook for wanting to make money, but the company is pushing back the boundary of private past, I think, what most would consider reasonable. The very act of existing in public has become an invitation to have every bit of data in your life sold to a company for maximum profit. It's a window through which law enforcement can peek, without ever having to go to the trouble of warrants. By automatically scanning profile shots, Facebook is attempting to "improve its service," but it's also seeking to more effectively maximize the profits it earns from that service.
In my case, they're going to be tagging me in a lot of random shots of an American Staffordshire Terrier -- but I can deal with that.