Don’t Trust Those Guys–Facebook and Data Gathering

privacy-protectionFacebook supposedly fixed its creepy tracking cookies but I’m extremely suspicious. There was a backlash, a very loud one, but could this have anything to do with it?

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) are co-chairs of the Bipartisan Privacy Caucus. In their letter to FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz, they wrote that “we believe the usage of supercookies takes away consumer control over their own personal information, presents a greater opportunity for misuse of personal information, and provides another way for consumers to be tracked online.”

In July Soltani was part of a team that uncovered a tracking method using ETags that worked even when the user was in private browsing mode. One of the sites using the technology, Hulu, quickly dropped it and severed ties with KISSmetrics, the company that provided it. KISSmetrics, along with clients such as Spotify and AOL, are now embroiled in a lawsuit arguing that the technology violates privacy laws.

Sure, Facebook wasn’t using anything like this. It was doing something more insidious.

Bill Gross posted on Google+:

Interesting potential unintended consequence:

With the Washington Post / Facebook connection, if you started reading stories about Cancer would your family get alarmed if they saw that in your feed?

He linked to a post on Gizmodo (http://gizmo.do/oAxLq3) titled “Unlike: Why Facebook Integration Is Actually Antisocial”:

Facebook made some big changes in terms of how things look and work, but its inexorable drive to drag us all into publicly sharing everything from everywhere with everyone all the time remained consistent. The most noticeable new features that reflect that are Timeline and Ticker. Ticker delivers real-time updates of your friends’ actions, while Timeline archives everything you’ve ever done on Facebook. But the big change, the true assault to your privacy, is under the hood: Open Graph.

Open Graph is a development tool that lets third-party apps and sites report your activities back to Facebook. It’s meant to extend or replace the Like button. It’s a way for sites and services to jack directly into Facebook from anywhere. If companies use Open Graph, they can publish to your Ticker and Timeline, too, effectively sending tattle-tale updates on anything you do to everyone you know, in real time. And then Facebook gets to keep that data forever. It is the ultimate collection tool, a way for Facebook to monitor you, wherever you go.

The thing about Open Graph is that it’s actually very seductive. Now, when I listen to a new song on Spotify (or Rdio, or MOG, for that matter) it shows up on Facebook’s Ticker immediately, as it happens. My friends can play it, right then and there. They can also see trends about my listening habits in my feed. And, damn, that’s actually kind of cool. It delivers on this cool premise of true real time sharing. In return it only asks for what Facebook has always asked for: our privacy.

But the Spotify we knew last week is a fundamentally different business from the one that exists this week for one simple reason: If you want to join Spotify now, you have sign up with your Facebook account. In simple terms, Spotify isn’t asking for access to your data anymore. It’s demanding it. No Facebook account; no Spotify. In essence, Facebook-sharing is no longer a feature for new users, it’s a requirement. It must know that for a company that traffics in what is new and popular and hip, it is taking a decidedly unpopular action. Spotify sold its cool.

Spotify says it’s made the move to promote better music discovery. That’s lame and untrue. Sure, you can help people to discover new music by forcing them to promote your app on Facebook. You can also do it by listening to a jambox turned up to full volume on a crowded bus. Both of those are pretty shitty ways of doing things. Both are forced exposure…

Basically, if this is the future of the web, not cool.

David Brin shared this recently – “Facebook, Google: Welcome to the new feudalism”:

The users contribute their own content to you for free. You sell it back to them with banner ads put on there. And on top of that, you spy on them to gather profiling data,” says Michiel de Jong, of the Unhosted project to decentralise user data.

Compare this with feudal lords in the Middle Ages — ‘the castles’ — who took in taxes in the form of wheat, cattle and other resources, consumed them and then demanded more. The castles held all the political power and could talk to other castles, while the peasants who lived on their land had little influence, even though the resources they produced kept the castles going.

The online form of feudalism is more insidious. With Google and Facebook, the resources these castles take in — images and search terms, for example — are not used up, as they were in the original system. Instead, the data is analysed again and again, and the castle grows in power with each bite of information.

But what does Facebook, and for that matter, Google, want with all that information? Is it just for internal data crunching for marketing and advertising? Sure, that’s what some people seem to assume. I’m not so convinced. Consider Timeline, what Zuckerberg is hailing their biggest change and something that will change the web. I don’t think that’s just colorful talk: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt don’t care for anonymity – they do want everything out in the open. Am I crazy to doubt what some people saying, that neither Facebook or Google won’t display anything without your permission? If that’s the case, why are they tracking everything without your permission? What’s that data for, just for internal data crunching? I would probably shrug and say, “Yeah, sure, probably!” before Timeline came around. Now it’s part of the anti-anonymity agenda.

Sadly, it’s very obvious some people are thinking only “me.” They’re consoling themselves by thinking they are looking at the bigger picture of the business end of this issue, but they’re completely forgetting that the things that Facebook has done this past week doesn’t actually add anything to the user experience that it didn’t before. It’s just less secure now. There’s a golden rule: always serve the customer. Not everything you have to do needs to serve the customer, but still, do serve the customer. I guess this all changes when we’re not the customer anymore. We used to be, when Facebook was trying to attract people to their services by giving something new and interesting. Now we’re the products.

And these people defending Facebook want to be property. That’s scary.

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