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Is the Internet Safe from Facebook?

You’re probably logged in right now. So are your friends, coworkers, and parents. Your grandmother is posting cringe-worthy comments on your photos or playing Farmville.

Now try to think back to being home over the holiday. How much were you and your family on Facebook? (A lot.) How did you use Facebook? (On your phone.) Everyone was glued to his or her Facebook app, either zoned out or uploading photos.

These days, it’s rare that you meet people who don’t have Facebook. If that’s the case, they likely aren’t computer savvy, or else they’ve deactivated it and it’s only a matter of time until they return. In 2014 alone Facebook has amassed nearly 1 billion users, up from 500 million in 2012. And, like many expert bloggers such as Brian Solis have said, mobile is where it’s at.

“The internet is very clearly going to become mobile-first, and Facebook is well placed to be a big part of this phase of the internet,” says Mark Holden, Head of Futures at Arena, told TechRadar back in June..

“Facebook estimates that 20% of user time spent on mobile is on Facebook – and once you factor in their ownership of Instagram and WhatsApp, which are mobile-first platforms, it will clearly be a dominant force in our daily lives across social networking, imaging, messaging and eventually VOIP too.”

The trend is especially prevalent in nations that do not have strong internet or mobile foundations. Facebook is bringing the internet to them, and through the phone, with up to 80% of Africa’s Facebook using the mobile app. Notice below the significant increase in the amount of monthly users by quarter in the rest of the world compared to he Western world.

Source Image: Tech Crunch
Source Image: Tech Crunch

Facebook becoming inescapable?

The other day I was browsing through my News Feed, when I saw an interesting article by the Telegraph. I clicked on it, but instead of being directed straightaway to the article, this message appeared instead.


Evidently, we never have to leave Facebook again, even to go to internet browsers such as Chrome. Rejoice. What do you get in return? According to Facebook, you’ll be able to log into some sites with one click, like and comment more easily, and see better ads based on the sites you visit.

Is staying logged into Facebook nonstop really worth getting to skip out on an extra tap of the finger? For myself, I don’t care about tailored ads. Facebook is basically telling me they’re getting better at taking my money.

And getting to like or comment more easily? This feels like Facebook begging me please not to go. And that now there are too many strings attached.

Let’s backtrack.

You can think of Facebook from its very early days as trying to replace Google. In many ways it seems they have tried over time to capture whatever’s useful or informative about the internet and make that part of Facebook, with the goal in mind that you never have to leave. On the other hand,  Google’s aim (for the most part) is to make existing information more easily discoverable, and excluding services like Google Plus or Drive, to get you on and off of their product as speedily as possible.

One of the first major signs of Facebook’s expanding was its creation of Pages. Suddenly you were being encouraged to create a page for your business or organization which could garner likes. If all’s going as Facebook has planned, your need to have a separate website or page has decreased or appeared more redundant. It’s easy to see it this way when just as many people are accessing your content through Facebook, if not more than your main site, and all the same information is there. In emerging markets many businesses are skipping webpages altogether and beginning their online life with only a simple Facebook page

These days half of us are carelessly registering for all kinds of sites, features, and apps using our instantly-provided Facebook autobiographical information. Facebook knows that we all hate the tedium of typing in all our personal details. By agreeing to be the middleman, the giant gets to gather more information on us, we remain logged in, and we’re allowed to be lazy by not typing in our names.

Facebook isn’t necessarily always thinking of tools that are urgently useful to you, but rather that keeps you using the site. Most people don’t even know they have a Facebook email, for instance. The company stopped pushing it after they realized that no one really cared for it (mainly because…who doesn’t already have an email?).

Big Brother?

Recently David Carr wrote a post that irked us. Facebook is trying to develop an artificially intelligent digital assistant “that will act as your artificial conscience and censor.” Run by Yann LeCun, an NYU data scientist, the program will serve as your superego, in a sense, helping you prevent when you’re about to do something embarrassing, like post a drunk photo of yourself for your employer to see.

The secret to the technology is an AI technique known as machine learning, a statistical modeling tool through which a computer gains a kind of experiential knowledge of the world. In this case, Facebook would, by monitoring your uploaded words and photos, be able to read your moods and intentions.

One has to wonder, is this yet another example of the Facebook network taking over? Is Facebook trying to become absolutely indispensable? No doubt, there will be plenty of people who don’t want to be told what to do by their computers, much less other people, nor will they want Facebook storing even more information about them. In order for LeCun’s statistically based tool to work, it will need…statistics…about you: your photos, facial expressions, your words, your sentence structure. In some ways it seems the AI would know you better than yourself. The questions is whether users will embrace it, or view it as an annoyance, or worse, another invasion of their privacy.

And now videos.

Several months ago Facebook reached out to some of Youtube’s biggest content producers and encouraged them to test distributing their videos on the social network. Collective Digital Studio made available its animated viral hit “Annoying Orange” on the social network, and it and videos like it are being delivered to Facebook users via the social network’s news feed and on individual creator’s pages (we’re defying this and giving you the Youtube link instead).

Collective Digital Studio has made it Web-video series 'Annoying Orange' available on Facebook. CARTOON NETWORK/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Collective Digital Studio has made it Web-video series ‘Annoying Orange’ available on Facebook. CARTOON NETWORK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Facebook wants you to upload your videos now directly to Facebook itself. In other words, instead of sharing from YouTube or Vimeo, it wants you to pull up the video and share it out from Facebook.  Sound familiar?

“I think instead of people jumping over from Facebook to YouTube to watch that content, I’m sure Facebook would love it if they stayed right there on Facebook,” Dean Alms told WSJ, vice president of strategy for Milyoni, which helps content creators distribute video on social media.

The Future with Facebook

Zuckerberg has said Facebook’s mission is to “unbundle the big blue app”. It wants to provide multiple and different experiences on mobile – and Facebook’s name doesn’t have to be attached.

“Facebook is not one thing,” he told The New York Times in April 2014. “On desktop where we grew up, the mode that made the most sense was to have a website, and to have different ways of sharing built as features within a website. So when we ported to mobile, that’s where we started — this one big blue app that approximated the desktop presence.”

That’s why the company has acquired a long list of companies, most notably huge names like Instagram, Oculus VR, and WhatsApp, which just announced the ability to use the app from a mobile browser.

Jason Mander, GlobalWebIndex’s Head of Trends explained to TechRadar: “Looking at WhatsApp’s user base shows why the acquisition was such a smart move. Fast-growth nations dominate the list of countries with the highest usage levels, with the figure hitting 50%+ of the online populations in Hong Kong, South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore.”

Like I said, Facebook owns many more than the ones listed, from FriendFreed to ProtoGeo Oy, all for the sake of growth.  It seems the plan isn’t to label everything with a big blue F, but to at least own everything.

According to Business Insider, “Facebook Platform is a massive part of the social network’s business. Currently, Facebook pays out $2.2 billion a year to developers who have made sales and accepted payments through Facebook. Eighty-five percent of the top 100 grossing apps on both iOS and Android are integrated with Facebook Platform.”

Is Facebook a danger to the internet landscape?

Mobile apps have only been around for such a short time. The dilemma is everyone is relatively new to the mobile world, including Facebook. With so many start ups like Snapchat or Mobli’s Mirage popping up, is Facebook’s plan to just acquire any major competition that comes along? And is that healthy? In some ways it’s too soon to tell.

In another light, by becoming so Facebook-centered, we’re slowing driving out any kind of internet diversity. For myself, Facebook is still just one app out of many that I enjoy using. I enjoy Google Plus, I enjoy Flipboard, I enjoy WSJ, Chrome, Youtube, and Trivia Crack. (I would say I enjoy Instagram, but Facebook has already bought it.) Am I being fussy for not wanting to be in Facebook all of the time?

Perhaps one day Facebook will inflate to be too big for its boots. Certainly, when you compare it to the private, selective start-up it was back in the days of Myspace, there’s something to long for that it has now lost. In its plan to outgrow Google, how much substance will Facebook have to sacrifice before it starts losing its core band of users? How much dilution and ad-clutter will we take before we tell Facebook to butt out, or we move on to another simpler app?

Would that really be such a bad thing?

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