Facebook’s Open Graph: Is privacy a given or a taken away?

Simon Mainwaring / Community / 9 years ago

Image Credit: PC World

The internet has been ablaze this week with discussion around the impact of Facebook’s announcements at the f8 conference last week. Effectively Facebook has dismantled the walls between it and the entire web inviting conjecture that the entire web will become social and that Facebook is making a bid for control. From a user’s point of view the issue at the center of the storm is privacy, or more specifically, the ability of third party sites to access user profile information when that user clicks the Facebook ‘Like’ or ‘Recommend’ buttons that will now populate the entire web.

Dana Boyd explored the critical issue of social privacy in depth at SXSW only two months ago (why does that already feel like a lifetime in this real time world!) stressing that its our responsibility to consider whether someone wants their personal life shared beyond the extent to which they chose to share it themselves. For example, whether personal photos published  on Facebook or twitter should become the sport of the public domain.

Not surprisingly, the new features of Facebook have inspired a variety of reactions. Some see evil in it, like MG Siegler at TechCrunch. Others are fed up with the appropriation of their privacy by Google and Facebook like Daggle. There are those that question such sinister concerns such as Dan Costa and Mike Melanson at ReadWriteWeb. And somewhere in between there are those like Ian Paul at PC World who took a more tempered approach by simply showing others how to effectively opt out of the over-sharing bonanza (for now, at least).

Like any Facebook user, I have my concerns. I recently shared my fears that Twitter’s promotional Tweets would pollute the social ecosystem. This week’s announcement by Facebook dwarfs such concerns. Yet there are other issues to consider. So much of this information is already public that we may be crying over spilt milk. The opt out approach used by Google and Facebook is hardly proprietary or new – it’s standard marketing fare. And before we point the finger at the Facebook, shouldn’t we consider the fact that we’re the ones who chose to participate by taking our private lives public?

What Facebook is doing is big stuff. Huge. There’s no doubt about that. It has the potential to affect everyone and everything on the web. Yet given the choice between guarding my privacy and stemming the socialization of the web, and embracing it for the positive potential it holds, I choose the latter. That is in no small part due to the sensitivity and priorities demonstrated by founders such as Mark Zuckerberg, Biz Stone and Evan Williams so far. (Facebook went so far as to wryly include an ‘Evil’ button as one of the color scheme options. Clearly they knew this wouldn’t be a cake walk.)

I believe these founders take their custodial role very seriously and know only too well that betrayal is the launch pad for their replacement. Moving forward I shall manage my privacy as best as I can and keep my eye on the great things that may come from an internet that is not just a web of information but a global community aligned around shared values. I believe Facebook is simply enabling the inevitable evolution of the web, and while the tireless battle between openness and privacy will rage on, we can’t imagine what kind of world the social web will unfold.

How do you feel? Do you feel like Facebook is betraying your privacy? Or is this issue a storm in a tea cup?


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  1. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Simon – I think everyone is mulling this over and going back and forth on the pendulum of Evil/NoEvil. What I wonder about is how this is ultimately going to be good for the Facebook user’s experience and utility. My 17 year old son is pretty well fed up with FB these days and I don’t think this will improve this feeling. His complaint is that it is just getting too complicated to do the simple communicating he was used to doing. The Open Graph may be good for FB’s business model, marketers and even the Web as a whole, but will it improve the basic FB experience?

  2. I think a few people are upset as this new move really puts a damper on how their individual stories will be told. It’s your life & mine and I want to able to tell my story without someone else taking control of my story and life.I think now as we see where this is going more people will be forced to become more aware of how to work effectively online while finding new ways to tell their individual stories. This isn’t a playpen, this is serious stuff. We as people will have to become more aware and diligent in our lives, how we live it and what information we feed into the system. More people may even become a bit deceitful working in the background but we must do what works best for us. After all it’s our story and lives and who best to tell it. It’s a lot of work on either end as the story from any side may or may not be 100% accurate whether Facebook tells it or you tell your life story yourself. It’s now our job to try and find truth on both sides and piece together the puzzle ourselves
    but it always was our job anyways.

  3. Avatar MikeSmithDev says:

    Great article. I think your concern over “polluting the social ecosystem” is definitely an issue… primarily in the way that it will affect the user, since they have the ultimate power in this equation.

    Stating “What Facebook is doing is big stuff” is both poignant and true. I just have a suspicion that although it is very transformative, they may be slightly off the mark. There is an open potential to do this and to do it correctly, but it would be a huge undertaking and it seems like the web is conceding to Facebook. I explain this a little more in my recent post “Facebook and the Advent of Electricity.”

  4. Thanks, Mike. I agree. As with many stages in the webs evolution, it took a private company to take the risk and lurch the web forward. We saw it often with Google and most recently with Twitter. So while it might be preferable for an open approach to socializing the web, it's unrealistic to expect it to happen that way. The barrier of entry is so high and you need the might of numbers that Facebook has. Here's hoping it works out for the best. I have a funny suspicion that after a few bumps we'll be pleasantly surprised by how our interactions on the web are transformed. All the best and thanks, Simon

  5. Thanks, Dan. This is huge concern. I had to go through a step by step article myself to protect my privacy last night. I think a nice tonic to the opt out approach would be to have a simple process by which to do it. And one that updates constantly. Just as we choose what networks to join we should have the option of how to participate in them – and easily. I couldn't agree more. In case it helps, here's that article: http://www.pcworld.com/article/194866-3/faceboo

    Thanks for great feedback, Simon

  6. Avatar MikeSmithDev says:

    It may indeed be unrealistic to expect the perfect solution in the beginning… I too am hoping this will start leading us in the right direction! It will be an interesting few months.

  7. I know. Somehow also I get the sense that while the major players are aggressively competitive, they also realize they need to protect the entire ecosystem. To ruin the web for everyone through spam, advertising, a lack of privacy is too short sighted for them. That's my gut speaking anyway. Simon

  8. Avatar Sarah says:

    Just because opt-out has been forced upon Web users as the norm does not make it right.

    And we didn't share all of this information publicly. We shared it privately, with friends, via Websites that allowed us to build networks for the precise reason we would only be sharing with these friends. That was the point!

    I know Facebook and Google are crying because Twitter came along and convinced us to all willingly give up the goods publicly, but by playing this retroactive game they are proving to us that they aren't trustworthy, do not have good intentions, and are only out for the quick buck. Our relationships with them have been tarnished, and as a result, a major door has been opened for a new player to do this all right, once and for all.

    After all, lets us not forget the lessons of Friendster and MySpace. We are a fickle bunch.

  9. Thanks, Sarah, and what you so is true. When people feel their trust is betrayed, it's game over. It will be really interesting to see how all of this plays out. I am not suggesting I don't have privacy concerns or that I'm naive regarding anyone's intentions. I just see that there could be a lot of positives to a social web and am keeping m mind open to them. Thanks for sharing and point well taken. simon

  10. I hope your gut is right Simon! 🙂

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