Category Archives: social web

Facebook Privacy Debate Heats Up but do Users Really Care?

The controversy around Facebook’s announcements at the recent f8 developer conference has kicked into high gear, as first lawmakers and now consumer groups weigh in on the privacy implications of the social networking giant’s recent moves.

GigaOM reports that over 15 consumer groups have now filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission to to protest the unauthorized sharing of private information by the social networking Goliath.

Epic.org, one of the organizations that has filed the complaint has described gist of the complaint,

“…that Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law. The complaint states that changes to user profile information and the disclosure of user data to third parties without consent “violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations.””

At the heart of this firestorm is the “instant personalization” option that auto-opts in Facebook users into sharing their social graph with a few partners selected by Facebook, which according to GigaOM are  Microsoft’s Docs.com, Yelp and Pandora.

The Facebook experience has been described by some as bland and homogenized but the user response to these changes has been anything but unanimous. The responses vary from highly contentious to generally apathetic, depending on which of the following 5 categories, the user belongs to.

#1 Blissfully Ignorant users that belong to the “I Don’t Know, Don’t Care” group.

This group includes otherwise perfectly smart people, who have bought into the myth perpetuated by Facebook that all conversations on the site are “private” or “between friends”. This group doesn’t get what the fuss is all about and doesn’t have a point of view on the privacy debate. This group of users doesn’t care enough to educate itself because it firmly believes that the benefits of sharing far outweigh the costs/consequences from lack of privacy.

#2 The Pragmatists from “I Know, but Don’t Care” group.

I’ve come across scores of users who belong to this group and my friend, Dennis is one of them. He says,

“If I wanted privacy, I wouldn’t be sharing my information online. I know the information I share on Facebook is not private and I don’t care. Facebook is convenient and free, that’s all that matters to me.”

Those who belong to this segment don’t mind sharing information as long as they get something in return. Many within this group know better than to share anything personal or don’t think they have much to lose from the information they do share. This group is willing to give up their privacy in return for some perceived value so you probably won’t hear them complaining much or at all.

#3 This is a very familiar group – the Opportunists that are mostly concerned with “What’s in it for me?”

This user segment has the most to gain from this forced openness and probably the least to lose. This group includes businesses, news media, developers, celebrities, artists, and anyone who has a vested interest in seeing the users profile information being shared broadly and want to see their own social graph being indexed in search.

#4 Ambivalents or the “I Know but Not Sure if I Should Care” is the group that’s still on the fence.

This group may be a larger majority than some might suspect and has mixed feelings about the whole privacy debate. These users will take their cue from the “experts” and the lawmakers to determine the full implications of the Facebook changes. You can call this group, Facebook’s “swing constituency”, the one that can go either way and spell success or defeat for Facebook in this privacy debate.

#5 Last but not the least, the Activists belong to the “Keep Your Mittens off my Social Graph (and my privacy settings)” group.

This group is probably Facebook’s fiercest and most vocal critic. The users from this group wants choices, and want to ensure that users are aware of consequences of their decision so they can make an informed decision. I believe that the online world is a safer (if not better) place because of this group’s diligence because it forces sites like Facebook to think twice before forcing “openness” on the users. This is the group seems to be increasingly concerned with Facebook’s quest to dominate/control all social data. This group will not willingly give up the social graph debate without a fight and is likely to become part of advocacy groups that want to prevent any one site’s dominance of the web, especially Facebook.

Depending on which group you belong to, you may think Facebook’s move to a more “open social web” is the greatest gift to the online world or it’s a pact with the devil himself. Facebook’s model is based on users being open and sharing all their personal information, but this aggressive push for openness may backfire in ways that Facebook didn’t imagine.

Even, as I was opting out of the “personalization” option, the “are you sure” confirmation message was very clear in that, even if I opt out, my friends could share my “public” information to “enhance” their experience. Apparently, the only way to truly and completely opt out of sharing your social data on Facebook is to block all applications and/ore start ditching your “over-sharing” friends.

It’s not the vocal minority that Facebook should be most concerned about but rather the quiet ones. By forcing too many changes on its users, Facebook may have a passive rebellion on its hands where users are concerned enough to limit their use of the site and block what they share, which would make the social graph data mined from Facebook incomplete..and actually quite worthless.
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What Facebook’s New Platform Means for your Business

The online world’s been buzzing about the bold announcements at Facebook’s third f8 developer conference yesterday, where Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg discussed his vision of the new social web and unrolled the next version of the Facebook platform.

While this conference was primarily aimed at developers, here are 3 announcements that have significant implications for businesses and users – Social Plugins, Open Graph protocol, and Graph API.

Social Plugins are the “like”/“recommend” buttons or widgets that allow users to share content from any site with their social network. Here’s the “like” button on Levis.com, which is one of the 30 launch partners along with Microsoft and CNN.com.

Levis.com

The Open Graph protocol is the rebranded Facebook Connect but “on steroids”. Developers using this protocol will enable users to “like” and “recommend” content anywhere on the internet as long as the Social Plugins  are enabled on that site.

This allows users to share information back to their Facebook social hub without ever leaving the page or website. Facebook claims that this will enable companies/website developers to,

“ integrate your web pages into a user’s social graph and also allows your pages to be seen across Facebook: in user profiles, within search results and in News Feed.”

This move brings users closer to the “semantic web” than ever before, where any website can automatically recognize the user and serve up relevant content without requiring multiple logins. With Open Graph, all information on user’s preferences and social graph is delivered directly to the website (from Facebook) so the users can effortlessly share and recommend their favorite products to their social network, all of which is great for marketing.

Graph API reflects Facebook’s push towards a more open social web and putting the onus back on the users to pro-actively manage their privacy settings but it remains to be seen how users feel about that responsibility once this is rolled out widely. Facebook is simplifying all its individual privacy permissions into one unified permission.

However, this convenience will come at a price – users may not have much control over how much of their data should be shared with an external site and how their data is being shared or used by those sites.

What adds some more complexity is that Facebook is asking their developers to have their own privacy policies which means that users will have to be diligent in reviewing the policy for every site where they have opted to share their data, it’s not Facebook’s responsibility.

“In addition, with explicit user consent, you can use their data for purposes beyond displaying it back to the user. However, you’ll now need to have your own privacy policy and enable users to delete all of their data from your app.”

Also, for company websites (where this is enabled), it’s not clear if there’s any responsibility on part of the company to safeguard the user information, given there is personal data flowing between Facebook and other sites, which raises some privacy concerns.

These social plugins don’t provide option to “unlike” or share negative reviews of products, which is great for marketers, not so good for consumers. I believe this will complement rather than replace the existing reviews/ratings feature which are widely implemented on most retail sites.

This move also strengthens Facebook’s control over any and all social data, which will reside on Facebook hub not on the company’s website so if you’re a business, you will be dependent on Facebook for access to that social data.

Some additional great news for businesses is that Facebook will be able to provide analytics on their users’ social behavior, which would help in more targeted marketing. However, this move towards “social web” makes Facebook the de facto owner of all social data on these users and could potentially charge for access to this data in the future. This is a bit scary and as MG Siegler points out,

“that’s a lot of power for a still-private company to have.”

Overall, this is a game changing move for Facebook, which is already nearing a formidable 500million visitors per month, according to ComScore. But as they say the Devil is in the details and many of the questions/concerns will be hopefully addressed as this becomes widely deployed.

Here are some great write ups, if you want to learn more: