Facebook's privacy changes: When will it go too far (and will you even notice)?

Facebook's privacy changes: When will it go too far (and will you even notice)?

Summary: Facebook may share user data with third party sites automatically. What happens when Facebook goes too far? Do users have the will to revolt?


Much of what you need to know about Facebook's proposed privacy changes boils down to timing: Friday, 3:04 p.m. PDT. Why is the timing important? That's when you typically roll out news you don't want folks to pay a lot of attention to.

For instance, some companies have famously issued profit warnings on a Friday before a four-day July 4 weekend. The news cycle may have compressed or even disappeared, but for the average bear---the poor fellow who can't possibly keep up with Facebook's open site governance the news cycle exists. You sort of tune out on weekends.

So what's Facebook trying to downplay? Try a proposed privacy setting change where Facebook will share user data with external sites automatically. Perhaps it's an improvement to Facebook Connect that'll change your life. Or it's just creepy. In either case, here's the excerpt:

Pre-Approved Third-Party Websites and Applications. In order to provide you with useful social experiences off of Facebook, we occasionally need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party websites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit them (if you are still logged in to Facebook). Similarly, when one of your friends visits a pre-approved website or application, it will receive General Information about you so you and your friend can be connected on that website as well (if you also have an account with that website). In these cases we require these websites and applications to go through an approval process, and to enter into separate agreements designed to protect your privacy. For example, these agreements include provisions relating to the access and deletion of your General Information, along with your ability to opt-out of the experience being offered. You can also remove any pre-approved website or application you have visited here [add link], or block all pre-approved websites and applications from getting your General Information when you visit them here [add link].

In other words, the sharing with everyone move by Facebook makes a little more sense. Facebook will now share your data with a bunch of partners. It's Facebook Beacon done right (for Facebook).

Now back to the timing. Facebook's timing is notable and tells us more than we need to know about the proposed privacy changes.  On cue, all of the folks that pay attention to Facebook's privacy moves closely---TechCrunch, ReadWriteWeb, Louis Gray and Inside Facebook---rang the alarm bells. After all, do we really want to share information with sites screened by Facebook and not the user? And just as the oldest media trick would dictate, the hubbub was fierce on Saturday and Sunday and played out by Monday---just in time for you not to notice. Weekend revolutions don't quite work.

Bottom line: Most folks---you know the ones that are sharing every detail of their lives with everyone on the Web when Facebook changed its settings the last time---will never opt out of the sharing with third party sites. Facebook's privacy setting are open and in sort-of-kind-of English, but the frequent changes mean that most users won't know what's going on.

Your data will be shared with sites Facebook chooses. Just trust Facebook and everything will be just swell.

The big question here is what happens when Facebook pushes too far. Will people deactivate accounts? I've been a click away three times in recent months, but have refrained. I wonder how many other people have also thought about nuking their Facebook account. At some point, Facebook will push too hard. It's a matter of "when" not "if."


Topics: Social Enterprise, Browser, Software Development

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  • That reminds me...

    I haven't checked into Facebook for a month or so... :-D

    I only joined it because a friend stopped using email to keep in contact and started using Facebook instead.

    I never really "got" Facebook and never did much on it, I think in 18 months I've maybe made a dozen posts.

    The interface was just hostile and noisy, filled with crud that just didn't interest me.

    Which is strange, because I love Twitter - but it is short messages and I only have a small group of people I follow.

    The more I hear about Facebook, the less I want to use it.

    I think the younger generation are more into open everything, as a generality, than older people. Younger people seem to be open, unless they want some piece of information to be private, whilst we older buggers want everything to be private, unless we explicitly give it out as public.

    Either Facebook will evolve into a "young people's" domain, where they don't worry about the privacy, or it will get a huge backlash of people leaving it...
    • If I'm not mistaken....

      It was the older gen folks that kicked off Facebook and its popularity (as the anti MySpace which was more for the younger gen). I too joined just to stay in contact with friends and reconnect with lost contacts.

      I fear their downfall will be privacy. The more they try to push the privacy boundary, the more us older gen folks will push back. The younger gen don't care or know enough to care. It's the very reason I refuse to fill out these silly "help save the trees by sending a friend a hug" questioner's. Pointless! I have no idea who's getting my information.
      • Define "Older Gen" and "Younger Gen"

        Since Facebook was created by a couple of college kids (the "Younger
        Gen" in my book) to simplify meeting people on campus - a Personals
        site with photos, I think you're mistaken about it being a creation of
        the "Older Gen".

        As with many over 40 types (my definition of the "Older Gen"), I joined
        because I had friends there (who joined because they had friends
        there, ad nauseum). However, even as my friends go, I don't care how
        many blue hearts and how fast their heart is beating, or how many
        stray white cats they find. News? Yes! ridiculous minutia created just
        to fill the pages with characters? NOPE!

        And now they're going to share my details with other sites when I've
        closed my account to all except my specific circle of friends? Looks
        like it's time for me to clear out my account.

        It may seem innocuous to share the data amongst your friends on
        other sites automatically, but that also implies that the other sites
        ALSO now have my info. As a center cut member of the "Older Gen", I
        say "enough!"
      • No, Facebook started out with college students

        Originally, only persons with .edu email addresses were allowed to join. Only later did it expand into the "general public." So, older persons did NOT kick off Facebook.
        • I think he means...

          that, once Facebook hit the open market, there was a surge of "older" people signing up, which made it hit the big time.
    • Younger views on privacy?

      Thats not totally true. Pew did a big study on how younger folks actually have an EXPECTATION of privacy - they trust yes, but they expect to have control over things and not have wool pulled over their eyes. Heather West from CDT did a good blog post about this a few months ago for Wired. http://www.cdt.org/blogs/adam-rosenberg/online-privacy-generational-issue
      • The teens I know

        sign up to anything and everything.

        My girlfriend is freaked that her 15 year old daughter's picture and writing is going out all over the place...

        Yes, some care about their privacy and expect privacy. But an awful lot don't have a clue about privacy, they just chat with their "friends", until something "bad" happens & all their ramblings are open to everybody to read.

        I think carefully before I write anything on-line, they seem to have no worries posting pictures of themselves in silly poses, drunk etc. and have no concept of what the consequences could be, when they look for a job, for example...
      • Expectations of Privacy

        Expecting privacy while posting various intimacies on an open forum such as MySpace or Facebook strikes me as being seriously naive, or possibly just clueless.
  • RE: Facebook's privacy changes: When will it go too far (and will you even notice)?

    All that has to happen now is for someone to make a facebook clone that doesn't share data in weird, authoritarian ways and magically it will become the new most popular one, until they get greedy and sell out too. It's just too lucrative once you have millions of users' data not to sell out.
  • Whatever happened to "Opt-In"?

    Why is it that in the tech world, everything is "Opt-out"?

    You have to opt-out of these Facebook changes ...

    You have to opt-out of the additional software that gets installed when you update Adobe or Flash ...

    There are hundreds of other examples ... most people don't take the time to read what every check box says, or to figure out HOW to opt-out of something like these FB changes ...

    Bottom Line: Opt-Out should be as illegal in the Tech World as it is in the rest of the world (I'm in Canada - Rogers - one of our main Cable companies - got sued for Millions because they ran an "opt-Out" campaign ... that case made it illegal to run Opt-out campaigns by mail)

    • If you live in canada,

      You can understand how clueless our politicients are about technology...
    • Could it because it it was just Opt-in

      the spammers would never get any business. Who in their right mind want to be spammed?

      So instead of siding with consumers, the sided with big ad agencies who said this would hurt their bottom line, and force them to lay off hundreds of people....

      To be honest I don't know if that is the right answer, but it certainly sounds like how the argument would be presented.... ;)
      • It's all about the Benjamin's [nt]

    • Hear! Hear!

      Ditto! Me too! Yep. For sure. Got it. I hear ya. Right on.
  • RE: Facebook's privacy changes: When will it go too far (and will you even notice)?

    Here's my question: Will FB keep those website and companies that it shares your info with private or not? Or is that going to be kept confidential for the sake of profit?
    Mack Swift
  • OK why did ZDNET delete my post of

    "I guess I will have to remind myself to opt out again"

    A little overzealous on the delete key this morning?
  • RE: Facebook's privacy changes: When will it go too far (and will you even notice)?

    It's interesting that their statement says you can block this sharing by clicking [Add Link] instead of a real hyperlink....
    • add link??

      I would imagine you have to be logged into Facebook to see the link.
      • Did you not read the quote in the blog?

        I think that either Larry Dignan made notes to himself to locate and add the correct links in the quoted Facebook statement before he submitted this blog post for publishing or his proof reader or editor were supposed to fill-in the missing links for him. All failed to add the links.
  • Trust Facebook to choose?? Nope.

    The data I store on FB is somewhat limited, and some of it that it is not supposed to be viewed by anyone is flat out false (like birthdate for example).

    Even so, any sharing of my data should be strictly opt-in rather than just a simple change of privacy policy. I guess if it get's too bad, yes, I will just dump the account.