There are several changes that are set to happen on Facebook this coming week, and one of them happens to have huge implications on user privacy. “Frictionless Sharing”, as Facebook dubbed it, has the potential to change the flow of information on the social networking site, but at a great cost.
The premise behind “Frictionless Sharing” is simple. The way things are right now, we have to click the ‘like’ button if we want to share something with our Facebook friends. Frictionless Sharing does away with that step and directly shares what we’re doing. The user needs only to grant initial permission for the application to do so, and Facebook’s ticker will automatically announce whatever you’ve just read, listened to, or watched thereafter.
Frictionless Sharing is reminiscent of Facebook’s “Beacon” which it tried to implement last 2007 but had to remove because of the public outcry that followed. Beacon automatically broadcasted a person’s online purchases on Facebook. For example, if you bought a ticket to a certain concert, your friends would automatically be informed through Facebook. Of course, people found the whole affair terribly invasive and Facebook was forced to take the feature down and apologize for implementing it in the first place.
The only real difference between the two is that Beacon was an ‘opt out’ feature while Frictionless Sharing is ‘opt in’. With Frictionless Sharing, you still have to give initial permission to an application before it posts anything on your page. When you do give that permission, then every action you make through the app will be fair game for Facebook and will most definitely be posted on your page – unless you opt out again. There are no standard rules to govern sharing practices. Each individual application provider decides what data is shared.
For example, if you’re reading a news site and you enable Frictionless Sharing on it, then every news article you read will thereafter be posted on your Timeline. If you’re listening to an online music service, every track you listen to will also be posted on Facebook, same thing with an online movie streaming service.
Also, even those apps which you have already enabled on your profile have to specifically request permission for Frictionless Sharing once it’s implemented.
Facebook can easily wash its hands clean of any issues because the whole thing rests on the user’s willingness to give permission. It’s not forcing anyone to use Frictionless Sharing, so ideally there should be no problem at all.
However, the ones who are likely to have a problem with this feature are those people who don’t read the fine print, especially those who just enable everything without really thinking – which, unfortunately, is a substantial number of Facebook users.
The whole thing can easily become a privacy nightmare for those who allow it. For example, if you’ve haphazardly enabled frictionless sharing, your friends might just find out that you’re a closet Bieber fan or that you spend the majority of your time reading the Hollywood gossip columns or that you have a morbid fascination for gory movies. You’re practically baring your soul to the world with this new feature. People can see your preferences laid out in the open and draw their own inferences – perhaps even judge your character from them.
On Facebook’s part, they’re just getting a new pool of data which they can use for their ever-growing advertising empire.
Several groups have already expressed their outrage against this new feature, with some even showing their protest by deleting their Facebook accounts altogether.
For those who aren’t as extreme and don’t want to give up their Facebook accounts, there’s a very simple solution: just be vigilant about the permission you give to any application. If you don’t like Frictionless Sharing, then don’t opt in.
For more information and a detailed privacy guide with screenshots, check out this article from PC World.
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