"Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You"

I’ve said numerous times that when you put something on the web, you should always assume that data is public, for the world to see. Up until now, Facebook was the exception – Facebook enabled privacy controls, enabling users to, while assuming their data could be public, add a layer of protection and assurance to that data since it would be stored in a silo’d environment. All that changed, in an incredibly significant way yesterday. At Facebook’s F8 developers conference, they announced a new way of integrating with the Facebook network, which would basically incorporate websites that choose to do so to become an instant part of the Facebook network. Now, not only will your Facebook profile follow you as you visit Facebook.com, but your Facebook profile will follow you from website to website, following you and bringing your friends with you throughout the entire internet. Facebook essentially just became the new Internet, which means my rules above now apply to Facebook as much as any website out there.

What you need to watch out for

Before it is assumed that I’m spreading a bunch of FUD, I want to be clear that the same privacy rules apply to the websites you visit as do on Facebook.com.  You might have noticed a new message as you log in asking you to opt out if you don’t want your information shared with these websites.  If you really have a concern you will want to look at these settings and change them.  However, even if you keep the information on, there are still requirements that will force website owners to get you to log in to Facebook before they obtain information such as your friend data or other more private information.  There is still some control.

What you do need to watch out for however is that what you put into Facebook.com could very well become a part of any participating website out there.  The same rules for the web now apply to Facebook.  If you don’t want others to know about it, don’t share it on Facebook!  I believe Facebook is anticipating that the world is becoming a much more open and forgiving place though – personally, I agree.  I call this the “small community effect”.  Basically, in a small community everyone knows who you are.  You all know each others strengths and weaknesses, and you’re able to help each other out because of that.  You’re able to talk, and everyone hears.  If you want out, just leave the community!

Here’s an example: I have many friends on Facebook that work for Facebook, Inc. and Twitter, Inc.  I do see private information all the time that isn’t meant for public consumption.  However, the minute I share that information to those it was not intended for I break that trust relationship with my friends, and all they need to do is unfriend me.  Now I no longer have a trusted relationship and my ties (and friendships) are broken.  When you have a small community there is a responsibility to trust one another, and it’s a much stronger bond than an anonymous internet.

Why This is a Good Thing

The internet just became a whole lot less anonymous than before.  It sounds scary, but it really isn’t.  When you are forced to identify yourself (and these identities will become more and more real as technology surrounding identity advances), you are forced to be real.  You won’t do things you would normally do when people didin’t know your name.  In a less anonymous internet it’s the anonymous people you have to worry about, and they are the ones that get forced to wear the Scarlet Letters when they are discovered.

Here’s the real advantage: now, rather than searching and hoping to find the right answers to your questions, answers will be delivered to you without you even having to ask.  You’ll be visiting your favorite brand’s website, and you’ll be able to see exactly what your friends that use that brand also like.  You’ll be pointed to other important and interesting things.  You could be watching TV and see what show all your friends are watching – often that can be much more interesting than having to just randomly pick what you aren’t quite sure would be good.  Not only that, but you have the opportunity to chat, communicate, and collaborate about these things that you like.

Facebook is encouraging us to be Social!  I think it’s time we all break out of our shells and take these real life relationships around the world and do something with them.  I’m okay with giving up a little information for that cause.  In the end social networking is about building real life relationships.  What a better way than to do that all over the web, wherever you go?

I’m going to spend some time over the next few days going over the details of Facebook’s new OpenGraph, what it is, and how it works (in a way you can understand).  I’d also like to compare it to Google’s SocialGraph API, a very similar API to what Facebook is doing.  I’d like to cover where the prior arts are, where Facebook could have done better (as in distribution and a less centralized architecture), and why I think they went the way they did.

In the end I think it’s okay to be at peace with this.  Everyone I’ve spoken to at Facebook intends to be good with this information.  Their entire purpose is to respect your privacy, while making the web a whole lot less anonymous and a whole lot more social.  So get on and be social!  Get on and share some things.  That’s a good thing!

34 thoughts on “"Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You"

  1. I disagree. What all this means is that Facebook will now no longer be a place where people can talk freely and truly share ideas.

    The death of anonymity = the death of truth. People tend to say what they really think only when there's no repercussions. If you eliminate anonymity, all you generally end up with is banality. People become afraid to share anything for fear of what could be held against them.

    I'm seeing this on Facebook more and more. Facebook in general has become nothing more than a place to a) share silly web links with my friends and b) promote my own content via cross-posting and so forth. There's no semblance of “real” conversation at all there.

    To sum up: Facebook, basically, is dying. It's becoming the next MySpace, and this sort of thing will only hasten that along.

    Like

  2. I love this phrase: “Everyone I’ve spoken to at Facebook intends to be good with this information.”
    You know what they say: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

    P.S. I hate the 'Hi – you seem to be new here.'-box! It takes up all the screen space when you first load the page!
    All these things are also in the sidebar, isn't that enough?!

    Like

  3. George, that goes away after several visits. You could just subscribe and
    you wouldn't get that in an RSS Reader. It's not *that* intrusive – you can
    always just scroll down.

    Like

  4. Otto, good luck with pushing “Facebook is dying” – I'm not sure where you're
    getting that evidence. Ask any brand right now where their focus is – it's
    not on Twitter any more. You can't avoid Facebook right now – there's no
    way to get out of this, except just not to use the web. If you're okay
    going into the dark ages to remain anonymous, so be it.

    Like

  5. Jonathan, agreed – there are 2 ways of approaching this though. First, both
    the oppressors and the dissident are each required to identify themselves,
    so it makes it just as easy for the dissident to identify who is tracking
    them. Second, there are still plenty of ways to remain anonymous if you
    choose. Also, by making the web a more social place the entire world
    becomes aware of the situation and each dissident has a much, much stronger
    backing behind them. Bullies will only bully when their elite circle are
    behind them. This is often done in anonymity as well. We see this with the
    efforts in Iran and elsewhere. Social Media has only brought more attention
    to these causes.

    Like

  6. It appears that the only data Facebook is going to use for the Instant Personalization is the “public” data anyway–“Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Current City, Networks, Friend List, and Pages,” as Facebook says. That data is already public; I don't have any qualms with people using it. My status updates and photo albums are still visible only to my friends, so I don't have any worries about that.

    Like

  7. Steven, you are correct. This data was all available on any site that
    implemented Facebook Connect before, by default. The difference is now
    Facebook has a privacy control built around it.

    Like

  8. It is scary. The “small community” effect doesn't apply to the web because there is nowhere else to go and there will always be bad actors out there who don't deserve your trust. I, and many others, want a system where we own and control our own identities, our own interactions, and our own content sharing, within our trusted circles. Facebook used to be one of the places where that could happen, but now that hundreds of millions of users are largely locked in, Facebook feels free to repeatedly abuse the trust of its users.

    Like

  9. Logical (I think it's ironic you're not using your real name), the advantage
    to Facebook's network is you can just kick them out. If they abuse your
    trust, just unfriend them – it's that easy.

    Like

  10. Not correct. Unless you specifically waded through the murky controls and locked down other aspects of your Facebook experience, you may well have other data set to share with everyone, thanks to the December changes. BTW, the December changes also removed user choice in that before december all that was forced to be public was Name and Networks. Now it is Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Current City, Networks, Friend List, and Pages – there is no way any more to maintain the old level of privacy on Facebook.

    Like

  11. And how do you intend to use that information, Mr. anonymous
    LogicalExtremes? If anonymity is removed and you visit my profile, I have
    just as much information on you as you do me.

    Like

  12. Not ironic at all. Sure, you can unfriend on Facebook, but you can't kick the bad actors off the web, and they still have access to anything fully public about you. It should be apparent from my concerns that I'm not willing to publicly share everything about myself on the fully open part of the web. I'm not alone in that by any stretch of the imagination.

    Like

  13. The world is much bigger than Facebook (if it ever ceases to be, it will truly be a scary place to live). It's not my intention to use anyone's personal information. What I do want is for people to have choices about where they want to live on the very broad and deep spectrum of publicity-to-privacy. Facebook continually removes choices, which will make it increasingly unattractive to more people.

    BTW, I'm not anonymous, I'm pseudonymous and have had this identity for years now since I started being active on the public social web. Google any form of my nom de plume and you'll see. I (as many others do) just see no reason to link my real world personal facts with my fully public online presence. All people have an internationally-recognized human right to privacy.

    Like

  14. I personally think we need to be extremely cautious about mixing up privacy with being social. They are entirely separate things. While I applaud the move to a User centric web, I also believe that privacy should never be sacrificed for it. Facebook clearly isn't there to protect your privacy (which is fine btw). They provide great technology to make the web more social, but they are making 3 mistakes with it.

    1) This should have been opt in, just like everything else they have done so far. That would have been the decent thing to do.
    2) The web is bigger (and should be) than Facebook. Calling it the 'open social graph' is just wrong. I can't 'like' via Facebook and get that like to Orkut can I? Trying to own our identity, and encapsulating everything in Facebook just makes them a big walled garden.
    3) If Facebook protects my privacy, then where is the switch that protects me from Facebook? Can't seem to locate it.

    On a side note. The line of reasoning that goes like 'if everything is open, you are forced to be real' doesn't make a lot of sense. Ask anyone in a repressed country what it would mean for them to be their real self.
    Sorry about the longish comment. Wrote a blog post about it earlier that provides more detail.

    Like

  15. Facebook's entire premise is around privacy. In fact, all the stuff they
    just released was already accessible, without login, to developers (which is
    just your name, location, picture, and friends, basically – not really much
    that could get you in trouble). The difference between now and before is
    now you *do* have a privacy setting you can turn off for that. I don't get
    all the fuss – Facebook is *adding* privacy, not removing it.

    Like

  16. Not me, brother. But many other people are I know basically leaving Facebook because it no longer has anything to offer them. I've heard complaints of “nothing but FarmVille spam”, and even if the user is savvy enough to block all the gaming aspects, they're basically complaining that FB is pretty useless to them in their daily lives.

    Facebook used to be a good communication tool. A way to keep in touch with your friends and other real-life people that you know. That is simply no longer the case; it's not a good way to keep in touch with people. It no longer fits a need that most people have.

    Also, your argument works for mine: Marketers moving is a better sign than anything else of the real users moving out. Nobody wants to be bombarded by ads all the time. Especially not the type of ad-spam that you see on Facebook.

    So yes, I'm calling it now. Facebook is dying unless they make some heavy changes.

    Like

  17. Two wrongs don't make a right. Just because the data was out there doesn't make their move correct in any way. A privacy setting has been added now to make something what was happening underwater a bit more obvious. The most important control is missing. I cannot protect myself from Facebook (unless I do not join). The fact that isn't possible makes the rest of their privacy controls less credible. You cannot seriously defend that Facebook is there to protect your privacy do you? Every new feature becomes opt out automatically. Where is the control in that. Think about this from a user stand point, not from the side of a developer or Facebook fan. I am not opposed to Facebook, but I do oppose a future in which they 'control' the social web and our identities.

    Like

  18. logicalextremes, I have indeed combed through all those “murky controls” and locked down everything that I want to keep private (which is most of it). Including the photo albums, which are harder to do. I know very well what information is appearing on my public profile. And I personally think that Facebook is doing a decent job striking a balance between their users' privacy and their business model.

    Like

  19. Facebook has been focused on privacy from the very start – that has been the
    very premise of their organization, inside and out. Internally, that is
    promoted very heavily – they're not trying to dupe anyone here. And yes, if
    you don't like it, delete your account. Good luck getting any sort of
    privacy like that from Google or Myspace or Twitter though.

    Like

  20. You and I will never agree on this Jesse. Its clear that we have a very different view on what privacy is. When you talk about Facebook in the context of privacy, you seem to be talking about the stuff that gets out of Facebook into the open. And yes, they do provide (opt out!) controls for that. When I talk about privacy I'm talking about full control to the user, including the ability to say to Facebook, I am using your service, but there are things that I do not want you to know or re-use. And there simply is no setting for that. Anyways, I'll stop here, enough said already 😉

    Like

  21. Otto has a point. I used to be able to keep up with my family and friends on Facebook. Now, I am seeing not only my family and friends, but also all of their friends. The result is overload of information from people I don't know or care about. I no longer use Facebook to follow friends. Just respond to requests and invitations. I'm waiting for something better.

    Like

  22. Jonathan, agreed – there are 2 ways of approaching this though. First, both
    the oppressors and the dissident are each required to identify themselves,
    so it makes it just as easy for the dissident to identify who is tracking
    them. Second, there are still plenty of ways to remain anonymous if you
    choose. Also, by making the web a more social place the entire world
    becomes aware of the situation and each dissident has a much, much stronger
    backing behind them. Bullies will only bully when their elite circle are
    behind them. This is often done in anonymity as well. We see this with the
    efforts in Iran and elsewhere. Social Media has only brought more attention
    to these causes.

    Like

  23. Paul, yours, and Otto's experience does not reflect the overall stats that
    Facebook is sharing though. Your perception is much different than the
    actual overall site usage, and now that usage is going to go way beyond just
    Facebook.com.

    Like

  24. I disagree. What all this means is that Facebook will now no longer be a place where people can talk freely and truly share ideas.

    The death of anonymity = the death of truth. People tend to say what they really think only when there's no repercussions. If you eliminate anonymity, all you generally end up with is banality. People become afraid to share anything for fear of what could be held against them.

    I'm seeing this on Facebook more and more. Facebook in general has become nothing more than a place to a) share silly web links with my friends and b) promote my own content via cross-posting and so forth. There's no semblance of “real” conversation at all there.

    To sum up: Facebook, basically, is dying. It's becoming the next MySpace, and this sort of thing will only hasten that along.

    Like

  25. Logical (I think it's ironic you're not using your real name), the advantage
    to Facebook's network is you can just kick them out. If they abuse your
    trust, just unfriend them – it's that easy.

    Like

  26. Steven, you are correct. This data was all available on any site that
    implemented Facebook Connect before, by default. The difference is now
    Facebook has a privacy control built around it.

    Like

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