Over the last few weeks the blogosphere and twitterverse have been buzzing with conversation about Facebook over-stepping the mark on privacy. This isn’t the first time such concerns have been raised, but this time they are accompanied with a combination of other factors that together paint a less than attractive future.
In a recent article “Facebook boldly annexes the Web” allthingsd.com painted a bright and optimistic future with Facebook the savior of the Social Web and the Rosetta Stone for the Semantic Web. The article was spot-on in recognizing the potential that could be realized through Facebook’s OpenGraph and the power that this will give Facebook. The only thing it missed addressing was the unspoken question; Do I want Facebook to control “The Most Valuable Data in the Universe”? to quote allthingsd.com. So while I completely agree with their summary, let me present a slightly less optimistic perspective of a world controlled by Facebook.
Pushing Privacy to the limit
Until recently we all thought that it was only when we explicitly chose to share something with Facebook that the “fact” got saved to the graph, e.g. Marie Likes URLa. However it would now appear — Brian Solis’s Whoops, I didn’t mean for you to read this, ReadWriteWeb’s “Read” in Facebook – It’s Not a Button, So Be Careful What You Click!, and Dave Winer’s Facebook is scaring me — that Facebook is planning to help itself to information about everything you do on the Web, to store it in its new extensible graph (opengraph), and to potentially post it without your explicit permission.
Yikes!!! Folks had better be careful about what they read if they don’t want all family, friends, and the boss to know about it…
Facebook’s Golden Handcuffs = Facebook Connect
Dave Winer’s article Facebook is scaring me was a great read although it did scare the b’jasus out of me. Thanks Dave for sharing the joy! But it also got me thinking about the importance of protecting yourself from Facebook’s prying eyes and so I decided to follow Dave’s advise to “Log out of Facebook” with the hope that “if Facebook had a shred of honor they would make their cookie expire, right now, for everyone, and require a re-log-in, and a preference choice to stay permanently logged-in”.
So log off Facebook, that sounds fairly simple? I wish… It transpires that logging out of Facebook is not enough since the Facebook linked account feature will automatically log you back into Facebook whenever you log into any of these linked accounts. So since my Google account (completely unbeknownst to myself) was linked to my Facebook account, I kept getting logged back into Facebook thanks to my Google login. That’s a somewhat ironic situation!
So even if you have set very restrictive Facebook privacy settings that doesn’t mean that you should allow site linking without considering the implications. Firstly you are making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stay logged off Facebook for any length of time. Secondly you are limiting your options in the future if you wanted to disconnect from Facebook (or at least making it extremely difficult to do so).
In my case, I am natually suspicious and hadn’t been using Facebook Connect for too many services, so I was able to switch all websites from Facebook Connect to a local account. Therefore, I now believe that I can actually log out of Facebook and potentially be saved from their prying eyes … but really who knows! I think I have answered my own question from one of my earlier posts “Is privacy dead or merely snoozing?” Dead…
Owning & Controlling your Social Profile
It is clearly Facebook’s plan to take over our entire social profile to become the single source of all truth about us (with or without your permission). Now that might sound like science fiction, however I am afraid to say that it is a definite possibility and may in fact be a confirmed reality within the next 12-24 months. Facebook is unquestionably the only company out there which could take on this ambitious task for several reasons:
- Facebook is now strongly positioning itself as THE social operating system
- Facebook is able to deliver a completely flexible set of OpenGraph APIs which allow applications to encode any aspect of your life into the Facebook social graph — likes, reads, friend_of, works_for, comes_from, expert_on, influencer_of, attends, visits, buys, sells, watches, … and so on.
- Facebook has a large and growing partner eco-system dying to start building applications on this powerful new graph infrastructure and contributing hugely valuable data. See interesting post from DailyTrojan entitled “Spotify & Facebook, Invasive or Innovative”.
- Facebook has an extremely large and highly active user base addicted to their platform.
- Facebook Connect has essentially already established Facebook as the defacto user login on the Internet, with a large number of websites and Internet-based services providing user login via Facebook rather than having to create separate logins. This brings a level of stickiness that is way higher than most people appreciate.
So hopefully this blog post represents a nice pessimistic balance to the positive outlook of the allthingsd.com article :-)