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Facebook launches “Deals” service with awkward assurances on personal data

Facebook’s in a delicate time of its life: a movie about the company has piles of Oscars waiting, and people are lining up to invest hundreds of millions of dollars, yet Facebook’s management (specifically, Mark Zuckerberg) is notoriously blasé about other people’s personal data. So whenever Facebook carves open a new frontier of our personal lives to be monetized and exploited made more convenient through the wonders of Harvard engineering, there’s some natural skepticism. Yesterday, when Facebook announced it was expanding its “Deals” service to Canada, there were some awkward attempts at allaying users’ fears.

See the Globe and Mail story, for example:

Facebook has launched a new feature in Canada that allows mobile users to claim discounts through smartphones by “checking in” while they are shopping at certain stores….

Users can also search the nearby vicinity to see what other retailers are offering deals through Facebook.

Facebook says no personal information is shared with businesses.

Demographical information like age and sex is given to businesses, however, if the sample size of buyers is large enough to not identify users.

So, shopping data isn’t shared with advertisers or merchants, unless it is.

The idea of using a Facebook service to buy anything makes us just a bit nervous (we don’t need our significant other finding out that our special anniversary gift was on sale), and let’s not bother speculating on whether these privacy settings will change in the future, because they just might. The bottom line (in more ways than one) is that Facebook is a for-profit company, so we can’t begrudge them selling a product, even if that product is us. But if this weirds anyone out—and by the looks of the comments on Facebook’s announcement, it totally does—there’s always a simple way to avoid it.

Introducing Deals [Facebook Blog]Facebook launches Deals in Canada [Globe and Mail]

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