An open letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg

It’s been a little over four years since I joined Facebook in the fall of 2005, shortly after beginning college. Facebook had just opened it’s doors to the general public after being exclusivly available only to those having .edu email addresses from major universities. I recognized it as then as just a fad, but potentially a major tool for connecting with friends, family, and colleagues. I quickly established my profile and encouraged my peers to register and do the same. It didn’t take long to begin building my social network on the ReadWrite web and it’s been nothing but upward from there–at least, as far as number of friends goes.

Unfortunately, the rest of the experience hasn’t been so rosy. Facebook says they’re improving the privacy experience in the coming weeks by removing regional networks and simplifying how the privacy controls work. I’m all for this action, because I believe that the current privacy model is, at best, confusing, and at worst just plain broken. But in reality, these new privacy controls are the least of my concerns. Facebook has it’s problems, sure, but one major issue are the advertisements that bombard users on every page of the site. They range from just plain annoying to visually assaulting, often times less than wholesome. The advertisement engine reads various profile details like gender, marital status, age, hobbies and interests, groups, pages, and more. It then targets various ads at users matching certain demographics and social data.

It’s not just disturbing, it’s downright scary.

What happens to the information collected by these ads? Does any of my personal data ever make it back to the hands of these 3rd parties? Is Facebook always recording my clicks and attempting to make predictions based on those? Since Facebook is based on a “friends” model, wouldn’t it make sense that I should have to approve or “friend” the types of advertisements that I see on the site? I realize that Facebook needs to make money, and I’m certainly not against allowing advertisements to augment a service provided to me free of charge. But I, instead, want to be able to choose which kinds of ads are shown while I’m logged into the site in addition to controlling what types of information these advertisements have access to. Not only that, I believe offensive ads should not be forced down my throat and I should be the one to decide which ones are offensive.

So, Mark and the staff at Facebook, please listen to me and users like me. Give us a choice as to what types of ads we see once you roll out the new privacy settings. Give us options to control how targeted the ads can be. Extend to us the hand of good will and truly improve the privacy and user experience that 350+ million users see each and every day.

We will all thank you for it.

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On a related note, users fed up with seeing all those ads should switch to Mozilla’s Firefox browser and install the AdBlock Plus extension, which effectively eliminates the ads on the site. This won’t help protect your privacy, but it will remove visual clutter from your life. It’s quite worth the 5 minutes it’ll take you to switch!

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  • Scott Buchanan

    I agree that it would be good for Facebook to allow you control over offensive ads, and they should definitely put clear and distinct controls on who can get your personal data (not something they’ve yet achieved); however, I don’t really think the idea of looking at your information to find relevant ads is a problem. If the matching is always done on Facebook’s side and can’t be tracked by the advertiser when the ad is clicked, then I can’t understand what harm is really done.