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It seems as though Facebook and personal privacy issues are never too far apart, with this week being no different as a 2.5GB database containing names and public information on every searchable Facebook user appeared on torrent network site Bit Torrent.
Image taken from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/marcopako/2391747442/
Whilst Facebook are being quick to point out that the information is available to any user online, the wider community appears much more concerned by the document. A Facebook spokesperson had this to say:
No private data is available or has been compromised. Similar to the white pages of the phone book, this is the information available to enable other people to find each other, which is the reason people join Facebook
While this may indeed be true, users are feeling increasingly uncomfortable about the way their personal data is being spread around the internet. Many people have commented on the fact that whilst the information may all be publicly available, having it all in one database could prompt an increase in people's accounts being hacked, or people falling prey to fraudulent activity. As Dan Tynan from IT World points out, bits of information like this are 'marginally useful, until someone collects them all in one place and organises them. Then, suddenly, they become extremely useful'.
But it's not hackers that people are most concerned about; it's major corporations. Facebook are aware of how valuable their database of users (and the personal information they have on each user) has become, particularly to marketing and advertising companies. As soon as Zuckerburg even muted the idea of selling user data to third party corporations he recieved a monumental backlash from users and quickly moved away from the idea.
It's interesting to note then, that numerous IP addresses discovered to be downloading the file from Bit Torrent belonged to more than 65 major companies, including Coke, Pepsi, Motorola, Apple and many more. As Paul Suarez from PC World notes however, this doesn't actually mean the companies sanctioned or requested the download, simply that someone from the company did download the file.
The reason this information is so valuable to marketers, is that it allows them to tailor specific products at specific audiences; the more they know about us, the more they can push advertisements towards us that are aimed at people in our location, age group, income bracket, occupation, social category, sexual orientation or a myriad of other demographics. In an age when an advertising campaign can cost considerable sums of money without necessarily bringing any rewards, targeted marketing would appear to extremely appealing to major corporations.