Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Et Tu, Facebook?

I bought my first record in the summer of 1964. It was a Beach Boys single, "I Get Around." It was not a stunning example of sophisticated literary poetics:

I'm gettin' bugged driving up and down the same old strip
I gotta find a new place where the kids are hip

Yeah, well. It's not Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson, or Bob Dylan, but I loved it. I was crazy about the Beach Boys. I eventually succumbed to Beatlemania, but for a few years I was a confirmed Beach Boys fanatic.

A young girl with her hula hoop in 1958. The longest verified record for
continuous hula hoop spinning is held by Aaron Hibbs  from Columbus,
Ohio; in 2009, he kept a hoop spinning for 74 hours and 54 minutes.
Why he did this, we're not sure. Photo placed in the public domain by
photographer George Garrigues.
We all were fanatics about one thing or another. And, somehow, we had money to spend on the fads of the day: In the 50s it was Hula-Hoops; Davey Crockett-style coonskin caps; Slinky; and of course, music by Elvis (never really "the king" for me), The Big Bopper, and Fats Domino. In the 60s, we went for bell-bottoms; Beatle boots; balsa-wood airplanes; lava lamps; banana seats on bicycles; granny glasses, slot cars, and of course, music by Paul Anka (I feel really bad about that one), Frankie Avalon (OK, that one, too), the Beach Boys, the Beatles, The Doors, The Jefferson Airplane, and dozens more. (There are probably photos of me wearing bell-bottoms and granny glasses, but these photos will never see the light of day. Why? Because I did all of my stupid sh*t before there was an Internet.)

Not only did we have the money to purchase such items, but advertisers, beginning in the 1950s, knew we had money -- or, through our parents, access to money. Suddenly, teenagers were a potential revenue stream, a big one. Not only that, they became, to a much greater extent than in previous years, what the Saturday Evening Post (yes, it still exists -- online, at any rate) calls the "chief financial officers of family spending." They were -- and remain -- what today we would call important influencers.

The Doors were without a doubt the coolest band I had
seen perform live in my (very) young life. When I was in
junior high school, they (along with several other bands,
including the Jefferson Airplane and the Nitty Gritty Dirt
Band) did a show on the football field of what would be
my high school in a year or two. Photo in the public
The bottom line (so to speak) is that teens are worth a lot of money. And if you think that advertisers are going to ignore that influence, well . . . ha, ha, ha, boy, are you dumb.

In the last edition of The Geekly Weekly I took Google to task over its blatant attempt to bribe users by paying them to enter personal info via its "Google Survey" app, but Facebook has gone them one better: Zuckerberg and his associates have now released "Facebook Research," an application that, upon installation, requests high levels of access to users' devices, thus enabling The Zuck to collect vast amounts of information about the user. Even the very young user. (The program is really just a rebranded version of an application called Onavo, created earlier by an Israeli company owned by -- you guessed it -- Facebook.) While the app requires "parental consent" before use, really that's just a simple tick-box that anyone -- including your 11-year-old -- could click. This probably satisfies the COPPA legal requirements, but let's face it: young users may not even understand what it is that they're agreeing to.
Mark Zuckerberg in 2018. Photo by Anthony
 and used under the Creative
Commons 2.0
And what they're agreeing to is this: Facebook will pay you $20 per month if you let them collect scads of info about you and your habits, including your phone and Web use. That's what your privacy is worth. $20. (Apple has already jumped on this, telling Facebook that it can no longer distribute the app. You never could download it from Apple, but Facebook had been distributing the iPhone version of the app from its own site, a practice which Apple has now disallowed. So far, Google has not followed Apple's lead.)

Now, if you're willing to give up your privacy for $20 a month, then I suppose that's your business: you are, I assume, a functioning adult, able to make such decisions on your own behalf. But what about your son or daughter? Or your niece or nephew? Does your 14-year-old possess the intellectual wherewithal, the demonstrated maturity required to make such a decision? As I think back to my teenage years, I'm pretty sure that I was not equipped to make smart decisions about such things. Or, come to think of it, about most things.

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