Facebook would like to become that set of shoeboxes in the attic: A place to store all your photographs, even ones you have no intention of sharing with any of your friends. It's called Photo Sync and Google-Plus already has something like this. To be clear, you have to opt in. But why would Facebook want to be your giant hard drive in the sky? I asked Marketplace Silicon Valley reporter Queena Kim.
"It's like they want to lock you into the Facebook ecosystem forever," says Kim. "It's hard enough to leave Facebook for another social network because all of your friends are there. Now just imagine if all the pictures of your kids, the trips you've taken, basically your life all on Facebook. You're never going to leave."
But, Kim says, there's a bigger issue--privacy. Companies could someday use your photos to gather information. Data mining is the buzzword in tech and photo data mining has a lot of people excited. Kim spoke with Chester Wisniewski, a data privacy expert at Sophos, and he mentions location data.
"Your camera records a lot of additional information," says Wisniewski. "Your phone or whatever you've used to take the photo and that information often includes the date, the time and often the location of where that photo was taken, so a lot of times people are concerned about being tracked."
For example, Kim says, she has a friend on Facebook who likes to do triathlons. "She's always posting pictures of herself on her bike or signing up at these triathlons. So you can imagine in the future companies might start mining that data and selling her gear. Then there's always the downside -- like if you're the 20-something and you've got a lot of photos with beers in your hand. People may wonder what it says about you. But at least maybe you could get a lot of coupons for your favorite beer."
And while we're talking privacy there's this new patent, filed by Verizon. The tech publication ArsTechnica came across it. How about a set-top cable TV box that watches what you are doing in front of the TV and then does something with the information. Like you're eating chicken wings and then the TV shows you a KFC commercial. When we spot these stories, we love tormenting Intellectual Property law expert James Grimmelmann at New York University. He says he finds it disturbing that companies even come up with these kinds of ideas.
“Oh, let’s show an ad for marriage counseling," says Grimmelmann, "if we detect people shouting at each other in the room where they’re watching TV, just who thinks that? Why?"
But on any patent story, there's a caveat -- an application doesn't mean a gizmo's on the way. Grimmelmann's theory is this.
"What Verizon is asking for is that if anybody does so something like this they want a cut of the money," he says. "So it’s really a bet that the future includes some kind of advertising based on what you’re doing while watching TV."
Finally, in case you wondering, there's a picture floating around the net of Ashton Kutcher done up to look like Apple's Steve Jobs in a movie out at Sundance next month. I'd be interested to hear if you think Ashton pulls it off or if you have a better casting suggestion. Thoughts? Post them in the comments.
David Brancaccio is the host of American Public Media’s Marketplace Morning Report, now a regular segment on NPR’s Morning Edition. His reporting focuses on the future of the economy, financial and labor markets, technology, the environment and social enterprises.