Facebook’s notable announcements this week 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.
During the event, Zuckerberg 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. It isn’t just about who 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? A book, a movie, brand of peanut butter, or a shortstop for the New York Yankees. 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. By integrating personal and profile information through third party sites, Facebook is making its database of intention social.
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. And no, I still don’t want your virtual farm animal or to participate in your silly crime-themed role playing game. When I role play, I do it old school—with a D20.
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. They can be inane or profound, personal or public, but they are always revealing. Facebook considers them objects.
I lost track of how many times Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg or his director of product development referred to bits of personal information as “objects.” To a programmer, they are objects—bits of code that can be created, shared, exported, imported, synchronized, monetized. And the easier it is for all that to happen, the better the platform becomes.
As Zuckerberg 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.
“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. Not anymore. Make something “public” and it won’t just appear on Facebook, but throughout the Facebook ecosystem. Again, this is a user-choice, but it is rarely an informed one.
In other words, be careful about who you friend because your information will show up when you visit one of these pre-approved 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.
Facebook will say that all of this is opt-in, and it is. Hell, no one is making you use Facebook at all…yet. But the truth is no one really understands their own privacy settings now. When Facebook changed its settings six months ago, 65 percent of users chose to keep their profiles public. Or, more likely, they just thought they should click “yes” to everything. We have all done it, and that choice will now follow us around the Web—forever.
This is the same problem Google had when it launched Buzz, and for which is has now been criticized by ten European countries. Of course, European countries tend to be a pretty critical bunch, so it is hard to hit Google too hard for that. Even so, the companies are very different. For Google, having users share private information is a constant risk and an unfortunate side affect of its services, perhaps even a liability. For Facebook, it is a business model.
The funny thing is that I didn’t even attend the F8 developer conference—I downloaded the embed code for the keynote’s video stream, posted it to PCMag’s Business destination site, and watched it live from my desk. When the keynote ended, I loaded up Robert Scoble’s Ustream feed and watched Zuckerberg get grilled from the front row of the press conference. Combine that with the real-time updates from attendees and other remote viewers, and it amounts to amazing transparency. Pure gold for a journalist. Great exposure for Facebook.
And the average Facebook user? For better or worse, they are going to get a lot more exposure as well.
Credti : www.pcmag.com