We’re all generally aware that the web servers of social networking platforms like Facebook are capable of processing data very quickly. But do we really comprehend how quickly?
Until recently, I didn’t really comprehend data processing speeds at all. But then I signed up for a new Facebook account. Although I originally opened a personal account many years ago, I deleted it after becoming frustrated at the platform’s constant modifications to its privacy controls. Frankly, I didn’t see why I couldn’t simply instruct the service that “only I should be able to post items to my account pages” once and once only.
But after a colleague convinced me that the platform’s social networking capabilities might warrant a second look, I ventured onto Facebook’s home page and reviewed the sign-up instructions.
I was asked for my name, an email address, and two or three other brief items of identification. That seemed reasonable to me! I was then asked whether I wished to give Facebook access to the electronic address book that is associated with my email account, so that the social network could help me locate my friends. Thanks, but no thanks! I declined that offer.
After a brief moment’s delay, I logged into my new account. And to my astonishment, I was immediately presented with a list of people whom (according to Facebook) I might know, and whom I might wish to “friend.”
Why was I astonished? Well, most of the names on that list were recognizable to me. They ranged from good friends whom I contact often, to total strangers whom I briefly contacted for business reasons on a single occasion many years ago.
For a while, I was flummoxed. How could Facebook know so many of my past and present contacts, across such a broad range of personal and business relationships, if I declined to open my electronic address book to the service? And then the answer struck me.
Although Facebook didn’t have access to my address book, it did know my email address. And if many of Facebook’s existing users had opened their address books to Facebook when they first signed up for the social network, the algorithms could have searched through many (or perhaps even all) of those address books for my email address.
So quickly, though? During that single brief moment while I signed up for the service? Apparently, Facebook is fast. Really fast.
Of course, it might be worth pondering a couple of follow-up questions. Do most of the individuals who open their address books to Facebook when they sign up for accounts really understand how the social network plans to utilize that access? And is it really fair for Facebook to ask for access only once, and then to utilize it forever without ever asking again?
Reasonable minds may certainly differ over the answers to those questions. And yet there is one impressive fact that is not debatable at all; namely, once we permit Facebook to access our personal information, it can make very fast use of our data.