Give Up a Little Privacy, Get a Great Deal

These days with folks posting their every move on social networking Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter, it's hard to know where the lines of privacy are drawn.

Woman on her laptop in a cafe.
Woman on her laptop in a cafe.

If I were to ask you if you'd be happy with a company scraping your personal information from a Facebook post and using it in their business, you might not like that. However, if I said that information would be used to give you a discount at your favorite restaurant, or a first glimpse of book by your favorite author, you might reconsider.

LivingSocial — the company behind some of Facebook's most popular applications, including "Visual Bookshelf" — has launched a couponing program in New York City that lets LivingSocial users get discounts at participating restaurants, spas, sporting events, and more.

New York is the second city to be included in a pilot program operated by the company. The first was Washington, D.C. Boston will launch next week, and more are expected to follow, according to LivingSocial's CEO and Co-Founder Tim O'Shaughnessy.

Each day the company will announce offers to its network through Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail. The offers work only if a set number of users agree to use them. Once the quota is met, the deal goes live and coupons are distributed.

Today, for example, users can decide if they want to feast on $35 worth of foodat Butterfield 8 for only $15. In order for the deal to become active, 30 people must purchase it.

The beauty of LivingSocial's program is that users can either sign up to receive the company's deals each day by e-mail, or friends may share word of the deals with each other.

However, LivingSocial also has the power to target users who have previously said that they like a specific restaurant or enjoy visiting a spa for the appropriate offers.

The concept is good news for small businesses, as it provides a new venue for local advertising, which is much needed as the readership of small newspapers declines.

"LivingSocial Deals" is only one of the latest marketing products from the company, which also has been working with marketers on targeted programs involving those "Top 5" lists on Facebook.

Through those quizzes, LivingSocial has been able to find Facebook users that like specific things. For example, the company recently worked with CBS's Simon & Schuster to provide fans of author Cassandra Clare with free downloads of her latest book "City of Bones." The event helped build the buzz about Clare's latest book, and according to O'Shaughnessy, is helping to drive sales of the book.

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