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“What Facebook Knows,” July/August 2012

“There can be no concern for privacy when you voluntarily give up your personal information.”
Peter Glassman, Schaumburg, Illinois

FACE FACTS Michael Wolff’s takedown of Facebook’s advertising strategy (“The Facebook Fallacy”) wasn’t the only piece from our July/August issue to draw hundreds of letters and comments—but it was the one with the most passionate objections. “Wow, what an incredibly ignorant understatement of Facebook’s raw power in numbers,” wrote Fremitus in an online comment. “To actually think that they will just use 10-year-old concepts (pop-ups and banners) as their big idea is ludicrous. The biggest reason to go public is to have cash on hand, and for what? For buying smaller companies that are doing innovative things. That’s the big idea, someone else’s. Just like Google and everyone else.”

AnsonA4 wrote in to thank Wolff for the article and claimed, “It made me think deeply about the situation. In the end, however, I think you are absolutely wrong about the demise of Facebook. Right now the majority of Facebook’s revenues come from display advertisements, yes, but that will change in the future. They will start selling products similar to Amazon—you will be able to buy movies and music, and advertising will become much more rich. You’re almost completely ignoring the power and value of the information that Facebook already has and is gaining every day. There really is no clear way of stopping Facebook at this point—the information they have is too valuable and marketable.”

Our related cover story on Facebook’s use of our personal data, “What Facebook Knows,” by senior IT editor Tom Simonite, inspired Peter Glassman of Schaumburg, Illinois, to wonder if we have any right to demand our privacy with regard to Facebook in the first place. “There can be no concern for privacy when you voluntarily give up your personal information. And for what? It’s not like giving your personal info to a bank and they give you a credit card in return. What does Facebook give you? More advertising.”

CHEAPLY GREEN In “The Great German Energy Experiment,” our chief correspondent, David Talbot, investigated Germany’s ambitious plans to slash its greenhouse-gas output. One online commenter, Elidyl, took a look at the cost of those plans and found them downright cheap. “Talbot writes: ‘Various economic think tanks predict that the country will spend somewhere between $125 billion and $250 billion on infrastructure expansion and subsidies in the next eight years.’ Another way to look at it: initial projections for the costs of Fukushima are running around $81 billion for three power plants in meltdown. Alternatively, the Iraq War ran into the range of $300 million a day. The Germans have the strongest economy in Europe. It looks very good to me.”

HOW’S THE VIEW IN THERE? In “You Will Want Google Goggles,” Farhad ­Manjoo suggested that we’ll quickly get over the dork factor and instead focus on the utility of Google’s upcoming augmented-reality glasses. Windchaser thought that sounded just about right: “It was only a year or two ago that I first saw a ‘link to Facebook’ button at the bottom of a news article, and it seemed like such a natural addition to Facebook’s abilities. Now I notice the lack of such a button. We’re social creatures. I think the Google Goggles will just keep taking this further.”

REGRETS, WE’VE HAD A FEW Another ferocious online debate erupted around editor in chief and publisher Jason ­Pontin’s review “Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps,” which discussed Technology Review’s unsatisfying experience developing an iPad app with a replica of the magazine. Although some readers praised Pontin for his honesty, others felt he’d bailed out on the project too quickly. “It is sad to read an article so full of disappointment and frustration,” wrote RJH. “Although it feels like the iPad has been around for a long time, it has been only two years since we’ve had it in our hands. This is an early market. Don’t blame it on apps. The format doesn’t matter—it’s your content that attracts readers and advertisers.”

Other readers felt Pontin nailed it: “I kind of suspect that the majority of people who are most offended by Mr. Pontin’s reasoning have an economic stake in app development,” wrote Josefski. “Most people’s criticism boils down to: ‘You should have tried this proprietary solution instead of the other proprietary solution’ or ‘You should have hired better developers.’ Neither of which addresses the core issue, which is that publishers are content providers, not software companies. That is why markup languages were created—so publishers don’t have to waste their time with code.”

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