Open Graph Opens Up More Privacy Issues for Facebook

The week started on the weekend, with visions of Chuck Schumer talking about Facebook and privacy.  FB’s new initiative, Open Graph, which is an attempt to socialize the entire web, got good press from marketers and itself last week, but the privacy police were bound to get after what ReadWriteWeb referred to as FB’s “ambition…to kill off its competition and use 500 million users to take over the entire web.”  And lo and behold – I went to Pandora;  there was my Facebook photo, there were my friends and their stations.  Did I ask for this? – no, I did not; did I get to opt out (on Facebook’s home page)? – no I did not.  And because I did not opt out the first time I went on to Pandora after it got connected, I never got the opportunity again. Now, I admit that a lot of people are going to like (pun intended) this – the idea of being plugged into the things that your friends like is very appealing to Facebook users, or they probably wouldn’t be there in the first place, but it raises the creep alarm to me in a big way.  Here’s the insidious thing that Facebook is doing.  Ultimately, everyplace you go on the web, you will leave a little footprint (you are already doing that, but now it will stick around a lot longer than 24 hours), paving the way for lots more targeting than you’re already getting. If you want to opt out, you have to opt out on each individual site to which Facebook’s Open Graph connects, which, eventually will apparently be everything. By the way, if this is worrisome to you, Mashable has instructions on how to end instant personalization – it lies deep within the heart of your Facebook account, where you’d never otherwise know to go.    So Chuck Schumer and three other senators are calling for  the FTC to make sure that Facebook will  implement new controls that will make it easier for users to determine how much of their personal information is shared with other Web sites.

This is not the first time that Facebook has shown its oblivion to privacy issues – there was, for instance its ill-fated Beacon program of two years ago – in case you don’t remember , Beacon sent data from external web sites to users’ news feeds; its purpose was to allow targeted advertising and let users  share their activities with their friends.  Again, no opt out feature, and consumer outcry eventually shut it down.  Ken Auletta, in his book about Google, discussed the engineer mind-set, which is sort of like “Wow, this is cool – if we can just do THIS, then THIS will happen,” with very little thought about the actual implications of that coolness.  Most  people don’t think like engineers, though, and that’s where people like Mark Zuckerberg get into trouble.  In a twitter feed this week, Times writer Nick Bilton quoted a conversation with a Facebook employee who said that Mr. Zuckerberg does not believe in privacy.  I’ll buy that – it’s just not in his engineer’s lexicon. And, in an interview with TechCrunch’s founder earlier this year, Zuckerberg said that he did not think that privacy was the “social norm” any longer – “”People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.” While this is entirely true, largely due to Facebook itself, it is also true that people like to at the very least feel like they have some control over what they’re sharing, and with whom .

Whether the senators siccing the FTC on the social networking site will amount to anything remains to be seen – it will really be up to Facebook’s users to either prove or disprove Zuckerberg’s belief that we are all open to sharing our web surfing habits with everyone we know. And ultimately to marketers that we don’t know.

We will certainly be discussing this more, in terms of the initiative’s implications for brands, for marketers, and for the publishers of sites.

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