This is the second part of a series on social media by digital strategist, author, and speaker Rahaf Harfoush. Check out Part 1 The Evolution of the Web Persona
Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, Pinterest, FourSquare, Google+, and Last.fm are just some of the outlets we currently have available to us for sharing everything from what we’re thinking to what we’re eating, and everything in between. We know we are posting this information, and we know this information is being stored and tracked. Stories of people getting fired for inappropriate tweets or status updates have already become urban legends, tales of caution told to scare social network users into enhancing their privacy controls.
Facebook’s new changes, announced at the 2011 f8 developer conference, signal a major shift in the online privacy landscape, alongside a new type of tracking that dramatically increases the amount of information collected by the data-mining Goliath. These changes push users to voluntarily produce, capture, and share more data online, as well as set up processes to make it easier for Facebook to collect a wide range of behaviours, beyond basic information, via status updates, comments, likes, and affiliations with brand pages.
Related: The Evolution of the Web Persona
Let’s take a closer look at these changes and their implications:
1. Timeline: Facebook Wants Users to Retroactively Populate it With Data
The new timeline feature is being touted as a living digital scrapbook. Users can begin with birth and fill the chronological stream with photos and videos from their life’s milestones. In addition, Facebook helpfully tracks the minutiae including all status updates, downloaded apps, and all “likes.” Essentially, the goal is to use Facebook as an anchor for users’ memories, media, and content.
2. Verbs vs. Nouns: Facebook Wants to Track Actions, Not Just “Likes”
Until recently, Facebook users only activity with various posting – the brands they use, the songs they listen to, etc. – was to click that little blue “like” button. However, “liking” is one-dimensional and limited because it contains an implicit endorsement: that users like a product. Soon “liking” will be replaced with “Facebook Gestures,” which means that instead of liking [object x] users will be able to [verb] [object x]. Soon Facebook users will be able to specify that they’re listening to a particular song, or watching a certain television show; those actions will be captured by the platform and added to your Facebook profile. This creates a new dimension of data available to Facebook.
3. Automated Collection: Facebook Doesn’t Want Users to Actively Think About What They’re Sharing
One of the more controversial changes for Facebook is that users will only be asked to authorize an app once. After that, the app will not repeatedly ask for permission to share information since opting in. Why does this matter? Well, Facebook announced a slew of partnerships with companies such as Hulu & Spotify which enable users, if they’ve opted in, to watch shows and listen to music without ever leaving the Facebook walled garden. In addition, if users have opted in to this service the app will broadcast what they’re watching/listening to and their friends can click a link to watch that content at the same time, enabling both people to collectively experience content.
This adds an entirely new dimension to Facebook’s previous data collection because it provides the social network with an unprecedented depth and breadth of data. Facebook already collects a vast amount of passive data – data that users don’t deliberately share with the site – for example, tracking whose profiles users visit, including frequency and length. If you’re creeping an ex’s profile, Facebook definitely knows.
Also, Facebook’s Connect allows users to conveniently use their log-in credentials to access other sites, which also feeds statistics and data back to Facebook.
4. Unwanted Data Collection
Facebook hasn’t had the best history with being completely transparent about exactly what they are tracking. Consider the recent class action lawsuit which was filed in 2011 against Facebook for breach of contract and violating federal wiretapping laws, when it was discovered that any site that contains the Facebook API (the little “like” button you see all over the web) was actually leaving a cookie on the user’s machine that tracked their web browsing history even if the user didn’t click on the “like” button and even if they were logged out of Facebook at the time. Yes, you read that correctly, Facebook is also tracking users online when they’re not logged into its platform.
Facebook also keeps a record of all messages and chats – even if users had deleted the contact. Facebook tracks who users have “unfriended,” as well as the IP address used every time users log in.
5. The Big Picture
Facebook is becoming a company that will not only know its users entire life history, as curated by the users themselves, but will have also created a system under the guise of a collective user experience that enables Facebook to capture passive actions. For users, this means Facebook will potentially know every book they’ve read, every television show they’ve watched, every movie in their Netflix queue, every news article they’ve read, even every mile they’ve jogged, all because Facebook has helpfully set it up so that its partners can seamlessly collect that information. They will also know users’ activities on sites supported by Facebook Connect. Facebook will know every time users have “liked” something. Factor in the information they know about where you’re logging in from, whose profile you’re visiting on Facebook and what sites you’re going to when you’re surfing the web and we have a ridiculously intimate and detailed dossier of your life that you’re handing over to a privately owned corporation whose business model it is to sell that data to third parties.
We all need to be cautious and aware. Users should look at their application permissions page to see what information each third party app is accessing and make sure they’re okay with it. Understand where data is being used and think twice before posting any private or intimate content. Remember: everyone has the right to be silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
Picture Courtesy of the Telegraph