announced today that after facing legal pressure from the Canadian government, it will begin working on ways for users to choose which parts of their full profile they are willing to expose to applications they add on Facebook.Facebook
Though the company talks about privacy all the time, the fact that it will take an estimated 12 months before this situation is resolved demonstrates how invested Facebook really is behind the scenes in a "let it all hang out" philosophy.
This morning we wrote about how Facebook quizzes are vacuuming up the profile data of unaware users. Anyone who has added an application from the Facebook platform, though, has seen the pop-up request for info: if you want to put a vibrating hamster picture on your Facebook page, for example, you have to expose all your info (marital status, school info, etc) to the people who made the hamster app. That never sounded like a tenable situation for the long term, and today it begins to change.
Presumably more user trust will facilitate more use of the applications, but Facebook privacy settings will become complicated with this new policy. You'll be prompted to choose which parts of your info you are willing to expose and which you aren't - but isn't that how real life works? Real life has very granular privacy controls; it's not an all-or-nothing experience.
This spring, we wrote about Facebook's moves to encourage more users to expose more of their information to more people. We asked the company on a press call if they were trying to push people towards being less private on the site, and they confirmed that yes, they are. That's clearly in Facebook's interest, but we believe that most users are interested in using the site primarily to communicate with known friends and family.
In real life offline, we usually get to choose what information we expose to particular people in particular situations. Facebook's new policy with regard to using apps will reflect that, but it will take time to put in place and it's a departure from the general direction the rest of the site is moving in.
We would love to see developers and analysts have free access to anonymous aggregate data on Facebook (it's in the public interest), but instead the company appears fundamentally aimed at limiting access to aggregate activity while pushing individual users to expose more of their information to platform apps and advertisers.