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Facebookers abandon online privacy for virtual doo-doo

When the s**t hits the social network

Application security programs and practises

Facebookers would rather pelt each other with virtual faeces than safeguard their personal information. At least, that's the word from Seth Goldstein, co-founder and CEO of Social Media, a company that enables virtual doo-doo tossing.

Social Media recently introduced a Facebook application called Food Fight. Yes, Food Fight. Typically, the app allows Facebookers to purchase virtual food items and throw them - in a virtual way - at virtual friends. It plays off the Facebook "poke", a kind of online hello.

"We call it the throw app," Goldstein explained at Social Graphing Patterns, a Facebook developer conference underway in San Jose, California. "It's kind of like taking a poke and wrapping it with something more specific - in this case, foods. They see not just that you've poked them, but that you've thrown caviar at them."

But you don't pay real currency for this virtual food. You pay virtual dollars. And you acquire these virtual dollars by giving up personal information. Food Fight is part of a larger network of tools that Goldstein refers to as "appvertising". That personal info will eventually be used for marketing purposes.

"Imagine that the ads that you saw not only knew who you were, but actually knew your friends, knew your spouse or knew who you were in a relationship with," Goldstein said. "Now that Facebook and others have exposed that information, there's an opportunity for ad networks like Social Media to leverage that data and provide the holy grail: personalised advertising."

He then showed off an online ad offering to sell someone merchandise for a friend's upcoming birthday - using the actual name of the friend and the actual date of his birthday. "Daniel's birthday is in three days, get him a special gift from Red Envelope, perhaps a dresser valet, pants press, or tie rack," the ad read.

When someone asked whether his app network was a danger to user privacy, Goldstein responded by saying that all data collected by the network is given up voluntarily: "What shocked me about the Facebook audience was how willing they were - and are - to provide information about themselves for benefits that you and I might consider questionable."

Then he proceeded to explain that Food Fight could also be used to throw virtual excrement. "We called it 'pile of poop'," Goldstein explained. "We sensed that there might be some popularity to this item, so instead of the $1 it might cost you to throw a sandwich at someone, we put a pile of poop up there at $20."

And people were more than happy to pay the premium. "The response rate went through the roof, people were so willing to give information about themselves in order to throw that piece of shit at each other," Goldstein said. "We had on average 75,000 people a day answering on average 25 questions a person. It made the privacy zealot in me cringe, but this is by the people for the people."

He insists that: "You can't protect people from something they don't want to be protected from."

But we beg to differ. Goldstein can certainly protect Facebookers from his "appvertising" network. All he has to do is shut it off. Clearly, "the privacy zealot" in him has very little influence. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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