Imagine visiting a website and finding that it already knows who you are, where you live, how old you are and who your Facebook friends are, without your ever having given it permission to access that information. If you’re logged in to Facebook and visit some as yet unnamed “pre-approved” sites around the web, those sites may soon have default access to data about your Facebook account and friends, the company announced today.
Barry Schnitt, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications and Public Policy at Facebook, told us in an email that “the right way to think about this is not like a new experience but as making the [Facebook] Connect experience even better and more seamless.” There will be new user controls made available, but this is a new experience: this makes Facebook Connect opt-out instead of opt-in.
The proposed change was first written about by Jason Kincaid on TechCrunch, who called it Facebook’s Plan To Automatically Share Your Data With Sites You Never Signed Up For.
Here’s the language Facebook used to describe the draft policy:
Pre-Approved Third-Party Websites and Applications. In order to provide you with useful social experiences off of Facebook, we occasionally need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party websites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit them (if you are still logged in to Facebook). Similarly, when one of your friends visits a pre-approved website or application, it will receive General Information about you so you and your friend can be connected on that website as well (if you also have an account with that website). In these cases we require these websites and applications to go through an approval process, and to enter into separate agreements designed to protect your privacy.
That sounds downright creepy. It’s nice to have one-click access to your Facebook info if you decide to share it with other sites – that’s what Facebook Connect does – but the prospect of having that information automatically shared when you show up on another website seems like an idea that won’t be well received by users. There’s a big difference between opt-in and opt-out “data portability.”
Schnitt says: “People love personalized and social experiences and that’s why Facebook and Facebook Connect have been so successful. We think there are some instances where people would benefit from this experience as soon as they arrive on a small number of trusted websites that we pre-approve.”
Shnitt is the man who told us in a previous interview about Facebook’s fundamental shift away from being private by default (Why Facebook Changed Its Privacy Strategy) that users generally go along with the company’s default privacy settings because they agree with the company’s recommendations and because the world is changing to be less private. He cited the growth of Twitter, blogging and reality TV as evidence that the world was changing this way and that people are less interested in privacy.
In that interview, Schnitt also acknowledged that business reasons, like pageviews and advertising, were part of why Facebook was transforming away from privacy as well. We asked if this new opt-out Facebook Connect was the first step in a Facebook Ad Network, where your profile on Facebook is used to target ads that Facebook sells on sites all over the web. Schnitt told us, “this has absolutely nothing to do with advertising.”
Do you buy all that?
Do you trust Facebook to select trustworthy websites to automatically share your data with when you browse around the web? If you don’t trust Facebook’s judgement, you will be able to opt-out of exposing that data. But by default you’ll be sharing it.
By default, you’re sharing more and more these days, with more and more people. Perhaps that’s because of your love for Twitter and reality TV, but perhaps its because of Facebook’s cultural and commercial agenda.