Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Facebook Open Graph Personalization

As you’ve probably heard by now, New York Senator Chuck Schumer is urging the FTC to set Social Networking guidelines in light of Facebook’s latest “upgrade” that implemented their Open Graph concept.

Facebook intends to allow other websites access to both your, and all your friend’s, personal information, in order to give you a more “personalized” web experience. When boiled down to its essence, that means you will see stories and ads targeted specifically to your demographic and interests, along with social plug ins that will let you see what your Facebook friends have read and commented about on the partner site. You will also have the ability to “like” things on the site and have them show up on your Facebook profile. All very cool if you’re interested in those abilities. Personally, I’m not.

Facebook has responded to Senator Schumer’s concerns by pointing out that if you’re not interested in sharing your info with their partners (read partners as websites that pay Facebook for your information), you can button down your privacy settings and prevent it. While this statement is true in the broadest of senses, the problem is that they’ve already rolled out Open Graph Personalization, and guess what? The default setting was “Hell yeah sign me up!”.

I first heard about this change last week and immediately went into my privacy settings and turned it off, only to find out over the weekend that all I did was close the barn door after the horses had already escaped. Whenever you go to a website and see that stupid little thumbs up icon, you know that you’ve been had, and they’re everywhere. Thanks Mr. Zukerberg, for helping to make the web a bigger piece of crap than it already is.

I use Facebook to find and keep up with old friends, as do most of you. It’s not my platform of choice; it’s just a nice social tool that has its uses and limitations. I don’t need or want it to track my every move in the Ether and sell off that info, as well as the personal info that I’ve put out there with the understanding that it was available only to “My Friends”. The ultimate insult though, is that by using this new feature, which at first you have no say over, they also can take personal info from anyone in your friend list. That means that even if you button down your own account, they can still get your personal info from any of your friends who don’t button down theirs. Nice.

I understand that Facebook is in business to make a buck, and I don’t begrudge them on that point. Hey, no one works for free, but if you’re gonna make a buck off of me, the least you can do is warn me so that I can opt out if I choose. Giving me the choice to opt out after you’ve already signed me up and sold me off is just plain sleazy, and taking my info from someone else is even worse.

So, what can you do to protect your info? Well, there’s a very nice write-up here on wikiHow that explains just how to go about opting out of Open Graph Personalization, and I suggest you do. Also, Senator Schumer has his own Facebook page that you might like to like. It will help you stay informed as the situation develops, and it will let them know how you feel. Pretty cool idea using Facebook’s own little thumbs up to help thwart their efforts. Good one Chuck!