I'm losing trust in Facebook

I was already becoming uneasy with Facebook's cavalier approach to privacy, but "instant personalization" may be the last straw.

Yes, I'll still use Facebook for now, because it's a convenient way of sharing information with family, friends and colleagues. But the only things going up there are items I wouldn't mind being splashed all over the public Web.

It's not even that Facebook has decided to allow Microsoft Docs, Pandora and Yelp the ability to cull information from my Facebook friends in order to customize my recommendations at those sites, the so-called instant personalization. (This, by the way, is of questionable value for those who have a fair number of business contacts in their mix, but that's a separate issue. After all, there is a reason Facebook calls contacts "friends" and not contacts).

It's that my "public Facebook information" can be shared by my friends to these Facebook partner sites unless I specifically block the application. Otherwise, they'll start sending our data to multiple outside businesses for others to see.

I wish I'd been given a bit more notice on this.

Users should have been warned we'd suddenly start seeing Facebook requests showing up when we visit other sites -- even before we've logged into those sites.

It's a safe bet this won't be the last time Facebook decides to troll through my data and come up with new ways of sharing. I'm not sure I can trust them to understand that just because I'm using Facebook doesn't mean I want in on every partnership they make. At this point, my assumption is no content I post there is secure, regardless of which sharing boxes I tick.

There was talk around our newsroom this week about an article highlighting the dangers of social networks to journalists, especially those who unthinkingly allow social networks to rummage through their contacts to find friends. But of course it's not only journalists who might have sensitive contact information in our address books, as the furor over Google Buzz publicizing people's Gmail contacts clearly showed.

Pretty much all of us are willing to trade some measure of privacy for convenience (electronic toll collection devices), cost-savings (store reward cards) or useful functionality (an engaging way to communicate with others). However, just as I like to know what the bill is when I pay money for a service, I want to know what privacy tradeoffs I'm making. Facebook needs to do a much better job of letting us know the true cost of its service.

Note: You can turn off "instant personalization" by going to Account -> Privacy Settings -> Applications and Websites -> Instant Personalization, clicking the Edit Setting box and uncheck "Allow select partners to instantly personalize their features with my public information when I first arrive on their websites." Even after doing this, however, "your friends may still share public Facebook information about you to personalize their experience on these partner sites unless you block the application," Facebook warns in small gray type.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000 or subscribe to her RSS feeds:
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