There’s a technology called OAuth. When you go to Spotify, or comment on many big websites, or rate a movie on Netflix, you are usually given the option to connect with your Facebook I.D. This works well because people hate maintaining separate user names and passwords; our brains just can’t deal. The catch is that now you’re logged into Facebook’s network, and will probably stay that way, even if you never again go to facebook.com.
Any company can provide an OAuth service. It’s just that Facebook has the most users. And now Facebook knows how many of them are logging in to any site that uses an updated version of OAuth. (I mean, I have no inside track on how they use the data, but how could you not look?) Facebook also has a CEO concerned about rivals usurping it. If you had a huge pile of data about websites and services that might pose a competitive threat and billions of dollars in cash at hand, what would you do? Right: You’d buy Instagram. And you’d be able to make a very informed decision without consulting anyone, because, well, math.
So what’s happening is that Facebook has an extraordinary window into the activities of other up-and-coming social networks and other competitors. (The same is true for Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Foursquare; it’s just that Facebook has a much bigger window.) With its remarkable war chest, it can endeavor to buy even more of our time and data than it owns today.
In other words, Facebook has its tentacles in an unending series of social sites, which it can either purchase or just datasuck at will.
Peak Facebook, when it does arrive, is something that Facebook-haters should fear, not welcome. Facebook’s platform has been so overwhelmingly successful that the company hardly had time to do anything but grow. Yet when the growth of the network itself slows, as it too inevitably will, Facebook—as a publicly traded leviathan whose mandate is to increase profits—will need to find new ways of slicing and dicing humanity into groups that will respond to marketing. That’s what lurks on the other side of peak Facebook, and it is going to suck.
Make that, datasuck.
John Carroll, who also writes at Campaign Outsider and It's Good to Live in a Two-Daily Town, is a media analyst and mass communication professor at Boston University.
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