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    Washington Post: The latest Facebook fracas: Your privacy vs. its profit

    The Washington Post reports on a privacy controversy concerning social-networking site Facebook:

    The last event kicked off a week ago, when the popular social network posted a note on its blog about “working with some partner Web sites that we pre-approve to offer a more personalized experience” at those sites.

    This possible change didn’t exactly get a charitable read in reactions like “Facebook’s Plan To Automatically Share Your Data With Sites You Never Signed Up For,” and “Facebook Planning To Give Away Your Data To ‘Partners.’ “

    How bad could things get for the 400 million-plus Facebook users when this test begins a few months from now?

    The potential downside seems obvious. You’ll see that some random site knows who your Facebook friends are and fret about other once-private information Facebook might be leaking. But what will you be able to do when so much of your life is tied up there? […]

    In a phone interview Wednesday, Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt and product director Bret Taylor said the Palo Alto, Calif., company wanted to expand its utility. In this experiment, Facebook would build on its Facebook Connect system (in which people can sign into sites such as The Post’s with their Facebook accounts) to help other companies greet Facebook users with a taste of its social network.

    For example, Taylor suggested that if a Facebook friend posted a link to a song on his wall and you clicked over to the record label’s site, the label could tell you which Facebook pals liked the song.

    This test would come with limits. You’d have to be logged into Facebook in the same browser to get any such personalized welcome elsewhere, less than 10 sites would be invited into the program at first, and each of them would have to let you easily opt out (after which each would have to delete any data Facebook had shared about you). Facebook would also provide a universal opt-out for the entire program. […]

    But even if all of those theories [about people’s attitudes toward privacy] are true, changing the rules to share people’s information without advance permission crosses a line. If the benefits of this openness are as obvious as Facebook suggests, this new option should sell itself to the same people who let Google’s computers read their Gmail, then publicize their pastimes on Foursquare. And if this experiment is as limited as Facebook suggests, the company won’t forgo much revenue if it eases off on its launch.

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