Spamming apps: Facebook is to blame, not Silicon Valley

Facebook Connect lets you choose whether to install an app or not, but it doesn't let you control what it can access or what it can do with your Facebook account. It needs a complete overhaul.
Written by Emil Protalinski, Contributor

Technical evangelist Robert Scoble today posted a rant about smartphone apps spamming Facebook. As you can see in the video above, the smartphone app Glassmap, which makes it "easy to see where your friends and family are on your phone," set him off.

Immediately after you install Glassmap, you're asked to login with Facebook, and while the social network does warn you that the app wants permission to post on your Wall, Scoble was still very annoyed at what it ended up doing. You see, the app doesn't actually warn you that it's about to post something, it doesn't show what it's going to post, nor does it let you customize what it will post. Here's the introduction of Scoble's criticism:

You might have seen all the people beating up on Path about two weeks ago. But that really is pretty benign behavior, in my experience, when compared to companies, like Glassmap, who really are hurting the entire app economy. How? I show how in this video. Glassmap automatically posted to my Facebook feed when I simply started the app up. Yeah, it gave me lots of lame ass warnings but this is crazy behavior that just needs to be stopped. Who is to blame? Silicon Valley's investors.

I agree with everything Scoble says except for his last point. Yes, a lot of Silicon Valley is focused on building viral apps, but I don't think the solution is to convince them to all play nice. When the competition gets tough, startups will do anything to get ahead. I think the problem is Facebook, and more specifically Facebook Connect. I think the system needs a complete rewrite.

Note that we're not talking about the Open Graph apps which continuously share your actions on your Facebook Timeline after you've given permission once. We're talking about the iPhone and Android apps that require you to login with Facebook.

It's good that Facebook currently asks the user if they are willing to let an app post to their Wall, among other things. That's not enough though. Facebook should either disable this functionality completely, which is unlikely, prompt you every time an app is about to share something on your Wall, which is also unlikely, or let you control whether an app can spam your Facebook friends if you login to it via Facebook Connect.

I know this is possible because I discovered a Google Chrome extension called OOptOut just two months ago that is similar to what I'm proposing. OOptOut lets you pick and choose which Facebook permissions you need to allow in order to install a given Facebook app. It gives you complete control over what an app can do, and you can choose this when you install the app.

Right now, Facebook users have an all-or-nothing dilemma. If they want to login via Facebook to use an app, they have to agree to whatever permissions the app is demanding. This is ridiculous. Users should be in control of their Facebook account, not developers who write apps that want access to your Facebook account. This is the reason people like me don't bother using apps that require me to login via Facebook Connect. This is the reason why Facebook Connect has such a poor reputation. This is the reason why Facebook Connect needs an overhaul.

Facebook is always talking about giving users more control when it comes to privacy. In fact, even Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks spamming apps are lame. It's time for Facebook to put its money where its mouth is: let users control Facebook Connect.

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