A good article by Brad Stone at the NY Times entitled “Facebook aimes to extend its reach across the web”. Brad talks about Facebook Connect:
Facebook Connect, as the company’s new feature is called, allows its members to log onto other Web sites using their Facebook identification and see their friends’ activities on those sites. Like Beacon, the controversial advertising program that Facebook introduced and then withdrew last year after it raised a hullabaloo over privacy, Connect also gives members the opportunity to broadcast their actions on those sites to their friends on Facebook.
This is beginning to sound like a development I have talked about many times, the user-centric web. In a User Centric Web, the user is in control of his data and interactions. Facebook’s attempt sounds like it, but it fails in one major perspective. And Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operation Officer of Facebook, together with Brad’s analysis indirectly explain where it fails.
Sheryl is quoted in the article:
“Everyone is looking for ways to make their Web sites more social,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. “They can build their own social capabilities, but what will be more useful for them is building on top of a social system that people are already wedded to.”
Brad writes about the possible intentions of Facebook Connect:
Facebook has detailed information about its users: their real identities, what they like and dislike and whom they associate with. With a member’s permission, it could use that data to help other Web sites deliver more personalized ads. Similarly, those sites could tell Facebook what its users are doing elsewhere, helping to make its own ads more targeted.
In many ways Facebook Connect, and Google’s OpenSocial, attempt to do what the User Centric Web is about. It allows users to take their data with them on the web. It allows them to be in control of their data and their interactions. The problem I have with Facebook Connect and these other initiatives is that to me it seems the wrong intentions are used to build it. Facebook Connect looks like a scheme that will provide Facebook more value. By letting Facebook users leave the Facebook platform they are actually hooked tighter to the platform. And that is good news for the advertisement revene streams of Facebook. User value seems to be reduced to welcome side effect. Facebook Connect lets Facebook extend the reach of its social graph beyond the platform, making the network inevitably more valuable than the user.
In my opinion the underlying business model makes it very difficult to provide the user true control over his data. If your business model is free advertisement based services, then you are forced to make network value more important than individual user value. It make privacy control an “issue” to deal with, instead of a value you can provide your user with. Big difference. I am afraid most social network users don’t care or are ignorant, but the issue of privacy will become more and more important as social media takes control of our lives. Openness and interaction that come along with it are great, but there are also dangers to consider with Social Media.
I’m afraid the NY Times calls it right when they say Facebook aims to extend their reach on the web with Facebook Connect. That sums it all up. Facebook pitches Facebook Connect as a privacy tool. I am left with one question. Who is going to protect me, my data and my online interactions from Facebook?