Facebook, Media and Privacy

For users, the core purpose of Facebook is to allow you to connect and share with friends online. It's a way to discover stuff that interests you. You may see that a friend with interests similar to your own posts links to articles that you enjoy reading. Or it could be that a friend has an app that automatically updates whenever he or she watches a movie or TV show online.

From a business perspective, Facebook is a gold mine of information about current and potential customers. Imagine that you work for a large company. You want to target potential customers as effectively as possible to convince them to buy your product or service. With Facebook, you can aim at specific demographics. You can even tailor advertising to each demographic -- hitting hard to win new customers and reassuring those who are already loyal. It's invaluable.

The media partnerships with Facebook are helpful to both users and advertisers as well. Users can share and discover new content in a meaningful, engaging way. Advertisers and content providers can learn what people are interested in and focus their energies toward taking advantage of that information.

On the flip side of this is a concern about privacy. This concern has led to some tricky problems for some content providers. In the United States, online video provider Hulu has a Facebook app users can install. It lets people watch television programs and films directly in Facebook and shares that information with others. The Web-based rental agency Netflix also has an app. But that app isn't available in the United States. Why?

The answer lies in a law passed in 1988 called the Video Privacy Protection Act. The law prevents a movie rental agency from sharing information about a customer's renting habits. It's meant to protect privacy -- what you rent is your own business. But it also ties Netflix's metaphorical hands for American users -- even if you want to share the information, Netflix isn't allowed to post it for you.

The partnerships with content providers may just be the first step. There are those who think Facebook could be poised to attack the TV world more directly.