In the midst of the “great 21st-century privacy giveaway,” Anita Allen makes a case for restoring our right to seclusion—whether we want it or not.
BY TREY POPP
In February of this year, an Iowa City web developer named Nick Bergus stumbled across one of the most bizarre bargains in the history of Amazon.com. For $1,495, plus $20.95 shipping, one of the online marketplace’s third-party merchants was offering a 55-gallon drum of Passion brand personal lubricant.
Bergus wasn’t the first person to find the obscene quantity hilarious. One customer review by a self-proclaimed “Fertility Specialist for Pachyderms” lauded the vat—used in concert with a Barry White CD—as “exactly what we needed to help rebuild elephant populations all over sub-Saharan Africa.” But Bergus did something a little different than write a mock review of his own. He posted the link to Facebook as a joke: “A 55-gallon drum of lube on Amazon,” he wrote. “For Valentine’s Day. And every day. For the rest of your life.”
Then, as most of us do after forwarding a stray bit of web humor, he more or less forgot about it.
A week later, as Bergus recounted on his blog, a friend sent him a screenshot of something unexpected: that 55-gallon drum, alongside the smiling face of its new spokesman: Nick Bergus. In accordance with Facebook’s terms-of-use agreement, the company had transformed his post into a product endorsement, paid for by Amazon. Soon friends from every corner of Bergus’s life (and who knows how many strangers) were seeing the advertisement—or “sponsored story,” in Facebook jargon.