"Wanna see something scary?"
Those were the opening words of an October 17 Tweet from the film, TV, and music video director Jason Zada. The Tweet presented a link to Zada's "Facebook Connect Experience," entitled Take This Lollipop.
After clicking a bright blue lollipop on the home page and agreeing to allow the Website to access your basic Facebook information, a video begins. As creepy music plays, the video shows an unkempt man in a dark building as he logs into Facebook -- as you. He proceeds to comb through your Facebook profile -- your personal information, your posts, Friends' posts, and pictures in which you've been tagged.
The man, growing increasingly agitated and mentally unstable, is then shown Googling your location -- and driving there to find you.
"When you see your personal information in an environment where you normally wouldn’t, it creates a strong emotional response," says Zada. "It’s tied into the fears about privacy and personal info that we have now that we live online."
More to the point, all that information is readily available on Facebook, a company known for being privacy-unfriendly and catching criticism for many of its anti-privacy practices, such as facial recognition, extensive data retention, and "frictionless sharing." It's little wonder that Facebook has earned a reputation for being "creepy."
In this respect, Take This Lollipop -- which does not save any Facebook information -- is not the real horror show; it is but a window into Facebook's inherent creepiness.
At the recent Web 2.0 Summit, Federated Media chairman John Battelle interviewed former Facebook president Sean Parker. During the interview, Battelle brought up this common perception of Facebook as "a little creepy," noting that "some people are scared of" Facebook because of how much information it has (and controls) about people. When Battelle asked Parker, "Is this a concern that people should not have?" Parker, after a sizable pause, replied, "Well, I mean, as a Facebook shareholder, it's a little tricky for me to answer that question satisfactorily."
"So I'm sensing you might have something you're holding back on," pressed Battelle. "And would say, 'Yes, John, in fact it is a little creepy.'"
Stammered Parker, "Look, I mean, there's good creepy, and there's bad creepy."
Parker continued, "And today's creepy is tomorrow's necessity… ?" -- the question mark palpably oozing out of his throat.
The good creepy/bad creepy bifurcation is reminiscent of a scene in the 1960 Oscar-winning film The Apartment. During an after-work stroll with his romantic interest, Fran (Shirley Maclaine), Bud (Jack Lemmon) lets slip that he knows where Fran lives. When Fran asks him how he knows this, Bud explains that he looked up her card in their employer's group insurance file. Consequently, as Bud matter-of-factly tells Fran, "I know all sorts of things about you," including who she lives with, when and where she was born, her height, her weight, her Social Security number, and her medical history.
Today, Bud's actions appear "bad creepy." They are the stuff that stalking charges and personal protection orders are made of. But in 1960, this was but an innocent symbol of how devoted the trivia-minded Bud was to the young woman on whom he had a crush. Indeed, the only thing Fran seems concerned about after the revelation is that Bud not tell anyone that she had her appendix removed, lest "they… get the wrong idea how you found out." Bud's curiosity certainly doesn't stand in the way of (SPOILER ALERT!) winning Fran's heart at the end of the movie.
Such a change in cultural attitudes invites a critical examination of Parker's "today's creepy is tomorrow's necessity" theory. Which is more likely? That in the future, the world will actually need Facebook to collect (and distribute) our personal information for the good of humanity -- and that Facebook will gladly do so, because it truly loves us ("good creepy")? Or that one day, civilization will view Facebook's actions as societal atrocities ("bad creepy")?
Either way, the Facebook of present time looks pretty creepy.
— Joe Stanganelli is a writer, attorney, and communications consultant. He is also principal and founding attorney of Beacon Hill Law in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.