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Facebook is thinking big with its new releases this week. The social network unveiled several new features at the company's f8 developer conference in California, including an expansion of Facebook Connect that adds social aspects of Facebook to partner sites, without any work for users.
This new feature, called “instant personalization,” is a way to access your social graph in more places online. But if users don't particularly want to know their friends' opinions on new sites — or if they have privacy concerns — opting out will become increasingly tricky.
As Patricio wrote earlier about Facebook's new features, it looks like Facebook is trying to "become the web." If people enjoy seeing their friends' activity and opinions around the web, it could certainly make Facebook indispensable in the digital social sphere.
And it all sounds innocuous enough. "Connect with your friends on your favorite websites," Facebook's homepage now reads.
Facebook platform engineering lead Mike Vernal tells Gigaom that the goal is to create a "magical" experience fo users. When you log into a Facebook partner site for the first time, it will already be populated with recommendations and notes from your friends.
Starting out, there are only three companies that can utilize this feature: Microsoft Docs.com, Pandora and Yelp. And Facebook makes it easy enough to opt-out of seeing personalization when you visit those sites:
But as you'll notice, clicking through to opt-out of the program does not include opting-out of your friends sharing your information with those companies. Users will to individually block these companies from doing that. Facebook certainly isn't making this easy for users. Currently there are only three participating companies. As the program grows — and surely Facebook wants it to grow — it will be increasingly difficult for users to opt-out and keep up with participating companies.
Even now, Facebook's directions are unclear. Their wording explains that you can say "No Thanks" to instant personalization, but when you click through, there is only an option to click or unclick an allow box.
And if you do choose to unclick the box, you are served another reminder that your life would be better if you kept the feature intact. Also, your friends are going to share your info anyway:
Facebook is really asking for trouble with these settings. The company has more thn 400 million users, and its popularity is growing at a fast clip. In the year since Facebook Connect got started, the social network has signed up 100 million people to use it.
But people are not happy about the network's privacy settings. According to Reuters, Canadian and Norwegian authorities have already filed legal complaints on account of Facebook's default privacy settings.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg may have been correct in January when he said that people are more comfortable sharing info online now:
"People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time."
But the key to social media's popularity — and the thorn in behavioral targeting's side — is making that sharing by choice. If people don't know what they're sharing, or what their friends are sharing, or — more importantly — how to turn it off, it all starts getting very sketchy very quickly.
Considering that Facebook doesn't even have consistent wording in its privacy settings, it's hard to imagine that they're really focused on the privacy concerns of individual users. Like many Facebook privacy scares that went before, this may simply blow over. But as all these little annoyances start adding up, Facebook could run into a lot of privacy trouble (and eventually fleeing users) down the line.