I am a big fan of facebook. I really am amazed at how good a job it has done to connect me to people I consider friends. Whereas it used to be that the only people you really socialized with (talked about the world, tv, movies, music, etc) were people you worked with every day, now I’m connected to a group of people of my choosing and no matter where they are physically, I am connected to them. That is simply amazing and the way it works vis a vie privacy is pretty good (if you understand how to set your privacy settings, which most don’t).
So, I’ve given up my privacy in some ways to let Facebook in on my social interactions. I’ve made that trade willingly but still they do collect and use this data. Up until today I’ve been ok with that but I’ve just learned about a new technology (you may have seen it advertised at the top of your home page yesterday) called “Facebook Open Graph”. This is a bad thing and it’s really not cool how they didn’t tell you how it really works before dropping it on you.
Let me back up a sec. The first technology/feature they released that had me worrying is called Facebook Connect. This started out as a way to log on to other websites using your FB credentials (If you were logged on to FB already, you were logged on to these other partner sites, if not you could use your facebook id and pw to login). You may have seen this on sites: “log on using facebook”, etc. This technology was scary to me since now when I used it, facebook would now know I was using some other website (like twitter, etc). This is info they really don’t need and I don’t want them to know, so I refuse to use it (as much as I love the convenience aspect).
Facebook connect has now grown to include Open Graph. See here. I’ll explain it like this. The New York Times adds a Facebook widget to every story they have, when you read the story you can click a ‘like’ button on the widget. This will then tell your FB friends that you liked the story, optionally publish to your wall a link to the story, and then if they see the story they see that you liked it (via your face on the widget, etc). This is standard Facebook stuff and on the surface it seems pretty cool. But there is a major catch!
Having this allows FB to track where you are on the web weather you click that like button or not. Interestingly enough, a partner site can just have the technology in the page and invisible to you and it will still work. So, this means that any website/partner that uses the open graph becomes a data mine for facebook. They can then see who went to these pages (as long as they are a facebook user) with the user not even knowing what’s going on.
It’s amazing how when Google Buzz came out and they had that silly little mistake where your most frequent contacts were exposed to the public, we were all up in arms with congressional hearings, etc. and this Facebook thing (which is waaaaay more troubling is going on with no notice at all). Do you know why this is? It’s because this stuff is really complex and really hard to understand to the average user.
Which is exactly why I’m so troubled. Facebook knows this is complex and they surely know that the average user will not understand the huge invasion of privacy that this data mining causes. But yet they aren’t taking steps to explain it to their users. They are saying “look at this cool new feature!!” and not “this feature is really cool, but there is a price that most people will pay but you need to be aware of it”.
So one thing I should mention is that you can cut this data link pretty easily by making sure that before you close your facebook browser page you log out first. If you aren’t logged in, there should not be a cookie on your computer and so the open graph stuff will not work. But who does that?