For now, I’ve heard more than I care to hear about the Facebook IPO, thank you — the story dominated the news cycle last week, and as I already have such ambivalent feelings about the company I listened with trepidation.
On one hand, it is hard to imagine not having this service at my disposal. Facebook provides a very useful way for me to stay in touch with friends, which is increasingly important and difficult when, as so many of my friends tend to be, geographically divided. After school, we spread out across the globe, settling in one city for a few years only to displace ourselves again somewhere new. We are first and foremost mobile workers, constantly meeting new people, making new friends, and relying on “social networking” to re-enforce connections. Facebook has made it very easy to remain in touch with old friends while choosing our participation level– that is, we can be selective about whose vacation pictures we look at, or whose status updates we choose to read.
Nevertheless, it’s very easy to forget, as we cultivate our online identities via our personal page in the comfort and solitude of our own sofas and studies, that every thought we share, every picture we post, every “like” we register, we are entering the public domain, but more than that, we are giving a for-profit company data that it can in turn consume and sell. It is not just our friends we are facing when using Facebook.
According to Facebook’s Newsroom, it had 854 million subscribers as of December 2011. That means roughly 12% of the world has a Facebook account. That is an astounding amount of personal data that Facebook has collected. And they collected it from willing users. The company estimates that its worth is $100 billion dollars, and filed for a $5 billion dollar IPO. But what is our personal stake in a company that seeks to monetize friendships and online identities?
Clearly, social networking has already changed the way we interact with the world in positive and negative ways. But let’s not forget the value of privacy, of confidentiality, and the pleasures of communities IRL.
I liked this post by Lori Andrews in last Sunday’s New York Times which goes into further detail on this topic.