The trouble is that these laws were designed for an age when getting at this information meant schlepping to the county courthouse, waiting for a clerk, rummaging through dusty file folders, and making Xerox copies. These laws did not anticipate an age when all this information would be digital, available in seconds, and sold again and again and again by data brokers to prospective employers, landlords, mates, or anyone else with $60 to spend.
Worse, you can’t opt out of having this information be public. It’s the law. You can ask data brokers not to sell it for a certain period of time. But you’ll have to do it with every single one of them, and after a certain period of time you’ll have to opt out all over again. Good luck trying to keep up.
Over the last year or two, companies have begun automating the collection of information from Facebook and other social networks. Scraping information off Facebook busts its terms of service, but as we’ve seen over the past year, amateurs and professionals alike have done this with impunity, and Facebook has been largely unable to stop it.
Breakup Notifier isn’t that bad. It only works if you and your friends agree to share information. But it’s a sign of apps to come. Today it’s your relationship status. Tomorrow it could be your religion, your politics, the music you listen to, the books you read, the food you eat, and so on. All of it prime cuts of meat for marketers.
And once Facebook finally issues that IPO, it will be under intense pressure to boost revenue by parsing this information and selling it to advertisers. I predict we’ll start to see ads with some extremely personal hooks:
Just broken up with your girlfriend? Here’s half off on an eHarmony membership.
Facing a nasty divorce? Let Wolfram & Hart’s team of bloodthirsty attorneys come to your aid.
Going through an existential crisis? The Church of the Subgenius can help.
It’s going to get worse. Trust me. So if you’re planning to break up with somebody on Facebook, best do it now.
ITworld TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan got divorced on Facebook once, and some people still haven’t forgiven him for it. Experience his less serious side at eSarcasm (Geek Humor Gone Wild) or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech.