Facebook: with great power comes great responsibility

I have been playing with Facebook lately to check its potential. Everything started when William Ward invited me there in a moment when I was vulnerable (it was before I started the MBA: a few weeks later and I would have gently declined the invitation). In the last weeks I enlarged my network, joined Politecnico network, started fiddling with the MIP group with my colleague Francesco del Vecchio. I advertised the conference about Open Source as business model in the Politecnico network and I got a taste of Facebook’s potential: 220 subscriptions from Facebook. A success. The room was full all the time, with many students. (5 subscriptions came from FB, see Eugenio’s comment). FSF is also experimenting with it as a mean to raise funds and draw attention to the cause.

Is Facebook too good to be true? I was less excited when banners about impotence started to show up close to my profile. What? Then I read on yesterday’s Wall Street Journal about a more serious privacy issue: Facebook’s knowledge of what you do online extends beyond the Facebook.com domain. In other words, if you buy a Christmas present for your friend, (s)he will see it on the News Feed … so long surprise. David Weinberger explains very well why Facebook’s defaults are wrong.

It’s bad to see things that are so useful and fun being damaged by such unfair practices. Companies must all learn the lesson that with with great power comes great responsibility. Being fair to the users is not an option. Meanwhile I’m joining the MoveOn protest and reinforced AdBlock rules to stop all banners from *.ads.facebook.com/*.





  1. Yesterday on my Facebook profile I noticed that my friend Colin had bought tickets on Fandango to see Beowulf. I don’t think he knew that his transactions were now so public. But do we care? Are we frogs in a pan of now lukewarm water? Is our data the rent that we pay to use these services? Would we be prepared to pay for these services if they were not subsidized by advertising? (more questions and answers at http://www.realtea.net/perfectly_targeted_advertising)

    I would probably not. I may take out an annual subscription to a paid search engine that does not advertise to me. I would set up my own website and my own email account. And then I would probably not bother with FaceSpace, MyBook, LinkedIn, DroppedOut or FedUp.

    In fact that is what I have been doing… I have been publishing more of my own information – this way my website knows more about me than any marketer could hope to find out from Facebook (http://www.realtea.net/too_much_info) – if we all were to do this, then Facebook will cease to be the place that marketers go to reach me.

  2. Gammy: I understand your position. Indeed, I have avoided Orkut, plaxo, linkedin, myspace etc for long time. But since I saw what a closed social network as the Fellowship of FSFE can achieve, I wanted to check what open social networks can do and experiment creating connections to wider communities. Indeed, the results are spectacular but they come with a very high price.

  3. Hey hey, I do believe that Facebook is a wonderful tool, but we do not need to distort reality.
    The conference on Open Source business models at Politecnico di Milano had more than 280 subscribers, but this is due to the work of the Communication office of Fondazione Politecnico di Milano.
    Only 5 people registered throuhg Facebook. In any case, the total number of people contacted through Facebook was 31, of which 9 never replied.

    You can check at:


  4. Thank you Eugenio, I corrected the post: I misunderstood the comment on the event’s wall. I didn’t mean to undervalue Fondazione’s effort (impressive, I have to say).

    With your correct figures, the argument on Facebook’s power and responsibility is still valid, though.