Apr 28, 2010

[Social Networking] The New Facebook Like Button

Facebook's homepage features a login form on t...Image via Wikipedia

I'm pretty liberal when it comes to privacy concerns for the most part, even online. While I don't necessarily publish everything about myself online, I do post a fair amount of things freely on the web. My blog entries for the most part remain public unless I discuss more specific details about my family or work and I'm not too big on secret identities online anymore. I guess you can blame Google for this approach to things - I like the notion that information should be free and that it's meant to be something greater than all of us. The sum of human knowledge is a powerful thing and we should never try to hinder it.

But then there are those cases when I get a little concerned and I feel that too much is to much. It takes a while before that happens - you're talking to someone who actually uses Google Web History in order to improve his search experience.

The thing about Google is that they really do try to keep the experience as free and as painless as possible. The only time they seriously try to think about personal gain is when we get to the advertising side of their business, but even that is not as invasive as some efforts.

And then on the other hand you get Facebook.

When Facebook first announced its new Like button feature for other websites, I was a bit excited. Yes I admit that the notion appealed to me and it seemed rather exciting in terms of what it could do for really making the web a lot more social.

However what I was not expecting was the blatant need to convert my profile page into something that advertisers can more easily digest and target for future marketing efforts. Google sticks to analyzing the keywords you use, but this is in an automated system that reacts as you search. What Facebook has created is a blatant invasion of your life and trying to fit you into cookie-cutter categories for advertisers to appreciate. After all, Facebook may be the world's most popular social network, but it doesn't really know how to effectively monetize its user base.

I made the mistake of trying out the experience like any other early adopter and found the whole experience unpleasant. At first I thought that if I chose not to show certain things on my profile as groups, it would at least remain as regular data on the page but not linked to anything. Instead Facebook tries to find Groups that match your interests and then combines them. If you choose not to show it, it is removed from your profile entirely and you're left with empty fields on your profile.

What's scarier is how they include your education, work and location information as part of what can be aligned with an existing Facebook group. This is the kind of information a lot of us prefer to ourselves and not have it identified as something I might possibly have in commmon with so many other people.

I read this entry on Philosophical Zombie after my little mishap with opting into the new Facebook personalization options. Now I can't go back to the way it was before and it annoys the heck of out.

As the article points out, Facebook can now use the new like button to get more targeted information on the user's non-Facebook web activities. I'm tempted to (1) turn my profile into a blank ugly mess and / or stick to surfing Facebook using Chrome's Incognito Mode or something, if only to prevent the automatic logging into Facebook.

For now, we're somewhat back at a wait-and-see mode for things. Let's see how privacy concerns evolve as the feature gets into full swing and more developers adopt it for their sites. I can see the complaints queuing up now...

As for me, my to-do list for today is thus:
1. Put all my personal details in the Bio section of my Facebook profile page
2. Remove all Like / Fan pages I have
3. Review all privacy settings
4. Re-think what applications I'll seriously retain on my Facebook page.
5. Review all my friends and determine who I really want to give access to my data.

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