Our local CBC Radio One morning show, Island Morning, ran a contest this week where listeners were encouraged to join the show’s Facebook group. Of the first 100 listeners to do so, ten were selected at random to receive a prize package of a 2GB USB memory key and a pad and pen set.
If Island Morning had a contest where listeners were encouraged to join the Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum program, or the Canadian Tire Auto Club, or Air Canada Aeroplan we would all be aghast at the commercial activities of a public broadcaster.
And yet, by encouraging listeners to join a Facebook group, Island Morning is engaging in exactly this sort of activity.
Facebook may use information in your profile without identifying you as an individual to third parties. We do this for purposes such as aggregating how many people in a network like a band or movie and personalizing advertisements and promotions so that we can provide you Facebook. We believe this benefits you. You can know more about the world around you and, where there are advertisements, they’re more likely to be interesting to you. For example, if you put a favorite movie in your profile, we might serve you an advertisement highlighting a screening of a similar one in your town. But we don’t tell the movie company who you are.
When an Island Morning listener joins the Island Morning Facebook group, they are contributing a part of a psychographic puzzle to Facebook that can then be combined with other information to more finely profile them.
This conceptual bedrock of Facebook is not fundamentally different from the bedrock underlying loyalty programs like Shoppers Drug Mart Optimum: it’s all about harvesting data about consumer behaviour which is then used to target them with finely-tuned marketing messages. Except that while Shoppers may only know that I buy toilet paper and condoms three times a week, Facebook, because it operates under the guise of a sort of safe “gated Internet community,” elicits data on a much more profound and personal level: who I’m friends with, what music I listen to, how I’m feeling. And, now, what radio programs I listen to.
Surely this is something the CBC, as a public broadcaster, should not be aiding and abetting. Indeed if the CBC should be doing anything it’s awakening listeners to the complex often-obscured commercial nature of online sites and the implications on our civil liberties that feeding these services with the minutiae of our lives has.