Is the New Facebook a Deal With the Devil?

Facebook blew people’s minds today at its F8 developer conference but one sentiment that keeps coming up is: this is scary. The company unveiled simple, powerful plans to offer instant personalization on sites all over the web, it kicked off meaningful adoption of the Semantic Web with the snap of the fingers, it revolutionized the relationship between the cookie and the log-in, it probably knocked a whole class of recommendation technology startups that don’t offer built-in distribution to 400 million people right out of the market. It popularized social bookmarking and made subscribing to feeds around the web easier than ever before. And it may have created the biggest disruption to web traffic analytics in years: demographically verified visitor stats tied to people’s real identities. There was so much big news that the analytics part didn’t even come up in the keynote.

This is so much new technology and it’s tied in so closely with one very powerful company that there is big reason to stop and consider the possible implications. There are reasons to be scared. The bargain Facebook offers is very, very compelling – but it’s not a clear win for the web.

We won’t go into all the details in this post. You can read our blow-by-blow in our live blog, other coverage on Techmeme and discussion of particular developments here on ReadWriteWeb throughout the day. I just want to talk about one overriding concern.

This is why Facebook did a 180 degree shift on privacy last December: because it wanted to use that formerly private user data to make the web social. Privacy remains a major concern in the new scenario, but it also got a couple of nods in the use of iFrames on 3rd party sites and the big support for the OAuth password-free log-in system.

Semantic web developers are liable to be concerned that decades of their work is being ignored, but Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol sure seems intended to be respectful of prior art. Shelley Powers calls it “a bit of a rough start, but it’s a start.”

Centralization is a dangerous thing and Facebook is a young company that’s proven willing to break its contract with users in the past.

Data portability advocates will find it difficult to argue with the fact that Facebook users can now export their data to an off-site developer’s cache and thus potentially to another social network. That said,


‘s Eric Marcoullier has begun the conversation with Tweets today like “By ‘Open,’ Zuck means he is open to taking all your data and not giving anything back.”

At first blush, it’s hard from a user’s perspective to find anything to criticize Facebook for in today’s announcements. Those criticisms will no doubt start to form once people wrap their heads around all the particulars. On principal, though, there’s going to be so much more Facebook around the internet that it feels like a real cause for concern. Centralization is a dangerous thing and Facebook is a young company that’s proven willing to break its contract with users in the past (see Facebook’s Privacy Move Violates Contract With Users).

For hundreds of millions of people, Facebook already was the internet. That’s liable to be even more true in the future, thanks to the changes announced today. For all intents and purposes, when it comes to social networks, there is no other option for most people. That’s a very vulnerable place for the web to be.

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