Who Wants Signal if You Can Amplify the Noise
In his recent keynote at Facebook’s F8 conference, Mark Zuckerberg talked about how the company is implementing “frictionless” sharing.
By frictionless Zuckerberg means that we no longer need to proactively like something in order to share it on our walls. Instead, by merely visiting a site or using a service that integrates with Facebook (think, for example, of news sites and the music service Spotify), our actions are tracked and reported back to our friends via what’s being dubbed the Facebook Timeline.
If you use Last.fm and are familiar with Scrobbling, the concept should be fairly clear. If you don’t and aren’t, Last.fm’s desktop and mobile apps keep track of the songs you’ve listened to and sends that information back to your Last.fm profile so that your friends there can see what you’re listening to. They call this Scrobbling. It’s all passive. You don’t need to do anything except to listen.
Facebook Timeline is Scrobbling writ large across the Internet. Read an article at the Washington Post — a site that integrates Facebook Connect — and your friends will know that you just read a specific article at the Washington Post. This is passive sharing, no active pressing of a Like button required.
Slate’s Farhad Manjoo had an article the other day that outlines why Timeline is a bad idea, and his reasoning should resonate with those of us on Tumblr. Simply: by recording and reporting everything, Facebook kills the art of curation:
For as much as he’s invested in sharing, though, Zuckerberg seems clueless about the motivation behind the act. Why do you share a story, video, or photo? Because you want your friends to see it. And why do you want your friends to see it? Because you think they’ll get a kick out of it. I know this sounds obvious, but it’s somehow eluded Zuckerberg that sharing is fundamentally about choosing. You experience a huge number of things every day, but you choose to tell your friends about only a fraction of them, because most of what you do isn’t worth mentioning.
Now Zuckerberg wants to lower the bar. “One thing that we’ve heard over and over again is that people have things that they want to share, but they don’t want to annoy their friends by putting boring stuff in their news feeds,” he said during his keynote. To me, this doesn’t sound like a problem that needs solving. If Facebook users aren’t sharing stuff because they worry it will bore their friends, good! Thank you, people of Facebook, for your restraint in choosing not to bore me.
Dave Winer and Nik Cubrilovic have more technical issues with where Facebook is going, and they revolve around privacy.
Winer, a technologist and more or less the godfather of RSS, writes, Facebook is Scaring Me:
People joke that privacy is over, but I don’t think they imagined that the disclosures would be so proactive. [Facebook is] seeking out information to report about you. That’s different from showing people a picture that you posted yourself. If this were the government we’d be talking about the Fourth Amendment.
Winer’s recommendation is to make sure you log out of Facebook when you’re done visiting the site.
But Cubrilovic, a software developer and Techcrunch alum, says that’s not enough. Facebook, it seems, maintains relatively persistent cookies in your browser. All the better to track you with:
The privacy concern here is that because you no longer have to explicitly opt-in to share an item, you may accidentally share a page or an event that you did not intend others to see.
The advice is to log out of Facebook. But logging out of Facebook only de-authorizes your browser from the web application, a number of cookies (including your account number) are still sent along to all requests to facebook.com. Even if you are logged out, Facebook still knows and can track every page [that integrates with Facebook] you visit. The only solution is to delete every Facebook cookie in your browser, or to use a separate browser for Facebook interactions.
If you’re technically inclined, visit Cubrilovic’s post for a walkthrough on how Facebook cookies work. If you’re privacy inclined, visit the post to read about past experiences he’s had exploring Facebook privacy issues.
And if you do visit, hit the comments section. It begins with a Facebook engineer explaining that the cookies are more benign than they might appear. However, many comments afterwards suggest otherwise.