More and more web sites allow you to sign in with your Facebook ID. Not a good idea if you are just doing it to avoid remembering passwords. Better to sign-up for lastpass.com or something like it. Interesting idea if you truly want to share what you do on the other site with your Facebook circle.
In the be careful what you ask for department, issues of privacy, openness of data exchange and reciprocity among web services continue to stick to Facebook. Michael Arrington’s 11/9 post on Techcrunch.com, the major watcher of all things high tech and start-up, takes a fairly strident stand against Facebook’s current policies. /
Facebook has become not just another social network but an institution of our times, complete with a Hollywood version. As it grows, its economic power grows, a lot by gobbling up ever larger mounds of personal data and web browsing habits. When you log in to another site using your Facebook ID, a new stream of data flows outward from that site to Facebook. Behind the scenes, your data on Facebook cooks with all your other data to produce ever more complete portraits of your habits and the social cohorts you are assigned to. This gives Facebook more marketing power to advertisers and marketers.
Facebook’s lack of reciprocity about data bothers a lot of people. It bothers Google and other large presences on the web. It bothers media and technology critics. It bothers Facebook users even if they don’t quite make the leap from technological limitation to corporate policy.
The latest conflict, between Google and Facebook over user identities
is illuminating. Google announced a policy that it would only allow other web servers to grab user lists if those web services provided the same services back. This effectively blocked Facebook. Facebook retaliated by publishing the manual steps to work around this restriction. And a war of words on this heightened.
Facebook’s policy hinges on the idea that you should be able to get at your data, but not data about your friends. So if you are a friend on Facebook, you may export that bit of information, but not other stuff—notably not the email addresses of your friends. Reasonable in some ways, but in practice, users become tied to Facebook. This is true for individuals, for organizations and advocacy causes and for businesses. There are ways around everything, but not on an easy, free or grand scale.
Bottom line: While Facebook claims you have control over your own data, control is not ownership. You can only do as much as their tools allow. And their competitive market position governs what they allow more than deep and abiding concern for their users’ long term independence and privacy.
Arrington argues that Facebook needs to give individuals and organizations greater ability to extract their data. Likewise, he says that other web services greater ability to draw on a user’s Facebook social graph
, the sum total of their relationships.
Read the whole post, but his summary makes the basic points:
1. It’s what users want, and it’s the right thing to do.
2. Facebook is so large now that health-of-ecosystem and user needs must be considered when Facebook makes product and policy decisions.
3. They’re lying to press and users, even today, about their motivations for retaining data. This is not about protecting users.
4. The data export tool they released last month is a red herring.
5. They have a very small window of opportunity to do this, before Attorneys General and class action litigators see too big of an opportunity to pass up.
Whatever you think on the substance of the issues, anyone who works with technology has some social responsibility to break these issues down for those we work with and influence and to speak up on the consumer—as well as potential regulatory issues involved.