There’s an episode of ‘The Simpsons’ in which Lisa sets out to determine whether a hamster or Bart is the more intelligent for a school science project. She does this by applying electric shocks to the ‘subjects’ when they attempt to feed. the hamster soon stops trying to eat the nuts that are attached to teh electrical wiring, while Bart just keeps on getting electric shocks whenever he tries to eat a slice of booby-trapped cake.
And so it seems with Facebook and privacy issues; no sooner than they navigate their way through one privacy crisis, then they end up with another problem of their own construction –this time involving a new plan to allow ‘trusted third party partners’ access to information about your Facebook account. At the moment, when you go off to a site – like a game – that connects to Facebook via the ‘Facebook Connect’ application, you’re asked if you wish to give the site permission to access data from your Facebook account that the site needs to work. This is usually the point at which I say ‘No’ and close the brwoser window, I should add. The new arrangement will be that certain sites will be given special dispensation to bypass this process and use your Facebook ‘cookie’ on your PC to identify your Facebook account, then go off to Facebook and grab details about friends, etc. without you ever agreeing to it.
Of course, there will be the option available for us to Opt Out of this rather high-handed approach, and by reducing the amount of information that you make available in your profile with a privacy setting of ‘Everyone’ you’ll be able to restrict what data is presented anyway. But it does appear that this, combined with the recent changes to default privacy settings that made ‘Everyone’ the standard (unless you change it), are pointing to an increasing interest form Facebook in working out ways of :
- Using your facebook login and data as a ‘passport’ on to other affiliated sites.
- Increasing the ‘stickiness’ of Facebook – not necessarily by keeping you on the Facebook site but by keeping information about your social activities with other Facebook users going back to the Facebook site.
- Increasing the ‘reach’ of Facebook accounts to make them more valuable for monetising.
It’s inevitable that Facebook will want to start making some real money from the vast amounts of personal data acquired on their users; if they increase the number of ‘selected partners’ significantly then the amount of data that can be collected about behaviours of Facebook users will be vastly increased – perhaps it’s time to start remembering that you are soon going to be paying for Farmville and other such activities one way or another; it may not be a subscription, but your personal data might start showing up in all sorts of places.