Facebook: Privacy Enemy?

Facebook made some notable announcements recently. They range from a holistic vision of a seamless, semantically enabled Web of human relationships to a simple “like” button, which will soon be omnipresent on the Internet. The moves are ambitious, giving even fast-moving rivals like Twitter reason to worry. Still, the simple fact that gets lost in the rush towards ubiquitous social connectivity is that Facebook users still don’t know what they are sharing, with whom, or why it matters. In short: Facebook remains a privacy minefield.

Tracking Your Tastes
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described what he calls the “Social Graph.” It’s basically a map of all of our social relationships and the things that we care about. The Graph isn’t just about whom you know, but also what you want. Sharing photos with friends is great, but sharing camera recommendations is monetizable. This is the promise of the Semantic Web, a collection of links and objects that can be easily shared and repurposed among sites; except on the Social Graph, all the lines eventually run through Facebook. Part of Facebook’s plan is the universal “like” button. It may seem like a minor introduction, but it isn’t. Sure, there are lots of ways to indicate that you like a story online: Digg, Buzz, Twitter, Reddit, and countless others, but those are mostly about getting people to read something. What if you just, well, like something? until now, the most granular measure of our human intent has been our search terms, and Google has done an exceedingly good job of connecting that intent with advertisers who want to capitalize on it.

Facebook’s Flaws
As much as I love Twitter and even Foursquare, Facebook has always been among my least-favorite social-media sites, and its graduation to “platform” status hasn’t done anything to change my mind. It truly is an application platform; there are more than 550,000 applications on Facebook, accessed by more than 70 percent of users. I find Facebook’s interface cluttered, the applications moronic, and the Terms of Service opaque—at best. It is AOl, circa 1996— without the service fees. Clearly, I am in the minority. Facebook has more than 400 million active users worldwide, and 50 percent of those users log on every day. These users create and share more than 25 billion Web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, and photo albums. Facebook considers such items “objects”—bits of code that can be created, shared, exported, imported, synchronized, and monetized. As Zuckerberg has modestly put it: “This is the most transformative thing we’ve ever done for the Web.” Transformative, for sure, but I would humbly suggest it will be better for Facebook than the Internet as a whole. I agree these products go a long way towards creating “instantly social and personalized experiences on the Web,” but it will come at a price. And that price is privacy.

A World of Likes
“like” a movie on IMDB, and all of your friends will get updates to that effect. For that matter, every time you look at a movie on IMDB, you will see a list of friends who have “liked” that page. It is a powerful tool, but my bet is most Facebook users will have no idea where, when, or how their likes will show up on the Web. Or for how long. In the past, Facebook would ask you to share your data with each app that wanted to access your profile. But now, make something “public” and it will appear throughout the Facebook ecosystem. In other words, be careful about who you friend because your information will show up when you visit one of these preapproved sites. Indeed, the Graph API makes it possible to pull all sorts of personal data directly into third-party sites. If you want to know what you are sharing, go to graph.facebook.com/markzuckerberg, but replace Zuck’s name with yours. Or try your friend’s username, just for kicks.

A New Reality for Users
Facebook will say that all of this is optin, and it is. Hell, no one is making you use Facebook at all—yet. But the truth is that Facebook users don’t really understand their privacy settings. This is the same problem Google had when it launched Buzz, and for which is has now been criticized by ten European countries. But Google and Facebook are very different. For Google, having users share private information is a constant risk and an unfortunate side affect of its services. For Facebook, it is a business model. And the average Facebook user? For better or worse, they are going to get a lot more exposure as well.

Source of Information : PC Magazine July 2010


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