The E-Commerce Assault On The Cellphone

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Facebook says it will allow local retailers to send offers to users. The “Deals” service is based on Facebook technology which allows members to share their locations via their cellphone GPS systems–something that their friends may want to know. Why that is a useful feature is difficult to say, but it clearly has benefits for e-commerce firms.

The service is simple enough, according to the company. “Local businesses will be able to offer you deals when you check in to their place on Facebook.” And, so are the instructions. “Finding deals near you is easy. On touch.facebook.com or the latest version of Facebook for iPhone, touch `Places’ and then touch ‘Check In.’ Nearby Places with deals have a yellow icon.”

The internet privacy police will object to a service that combines personal location and behavior data with e-commerce offers. The service may save Facebook members money, but privacy advocates will toss that aside. Utility at the cost of privacy is always a bad thing.

The problem with the privacy argument is almost always the same. People join social networks to get a service. It is, usually, the chance to communicate to friends and loved ones. The ability to create virtual communities has allowed Facebook to have 500 million “members.”

But, there is a cost to free services like Facebook. Members need to accept the fact that the social network must trade in information about its subscribers to remain a viable company. That may involve modest breaches of privacy. Users can always quit Facebook, no matter how addicted they are to the service, if they want to reject the basis on which the largest social network must operate to keep its doors open.

The internet killed privacy years ago when people began to look up phone numbers online and build their own modest websites. Facebook’s new plans and services are only a more sophisticated evolution of that.

Douglas A. McIntyre