Tuesday, 27 September 2011

To use a frictionless slope, you have to get on (Facebook "Frictionless Experiences")

"I gave them express permission to slap me in the face...imagine my suprise when they slapped me in the face!"

This is what the current outcry about Facebook's new push for "frictionless experiences" with third party application developers, some of the most high profile being the likes of Guardian or Independent newspapers, sounds like to me.

Somewhere along the road with this announcement it seems people have forgotten that in order to be sharing "everything you do" into your timeline (a new Facebook feature that is being rolled out) can't be achieved without you clicking a button that, in not so certain terms, "share everything I do with this site/app".

Privacy warriors, a vital set of people in the online world as companies like Facebook seek to test the boundaries of what is acceptable or even legal on a seemingly daily basis, may not realise how difficult it actually is to just use people's information from Facebook.

Those people that have left all of their details open to the world may be able to have some of their personal detail harvested by application developers, but those who employ even the most basic of privacy settings shield it all until they actively go through a process that says "let this application see my details".

And so it is with "frictionless experiences", if you're going to have that smooth ride you need to give yourself a push first.

Privacy is something you can do with as you wish, and as such it is not a privacy concern when what you're doing is being published automatically when you have approved this behaviour up front. If facebook was allowing all users data to be used by third parties for the purposes of this experiment then those with concerns would have genuine reason to have those concerns.
It is not.

And then there is concern about "noise" and lack of considered sharing. "Frictionless experiences" doesn't appear, at least for the time being, to replace the Like button. Or the share this functionality. People will still be able to post links to things they think are cool, or articles that are interesting reads, as much as they always have.

On top of this Facebook will start to log your activity on sites that are running apps that you have approved to do so and will keep that information in the background. It will get posted to that inconsequential news ticker that no-one actually reads, but it won't go in the timeline/newsfeed. It might, if it algorithmically sees a trend, push something to be shared as if you'd "liked" it...but this is a far cry from you happening to read that article about porn and it being put in to a prominent position in your friend's news feeds!

Unless you always read about porn.

I also would argue this is a positive thing. Obviously when you feel the need to hit a like button you know this is something you want to share with people, that you think they want to see. What about all the things people want to see, or that you should be sharing, but don't realise? If Facebook can get the algorithms right then you could find yourself looking at the feeds and thinking "Yeah...why *didn't* I share that?".

If you don't like the privacy implications here, then don't approve the apps. You don't have to take part, and in all honesty your experience of Facebook and the web is not going to be knowingly dampened by not approving those apps. If you are worried about the noise...well...let's watch this space. Facebook have given strong assurances over controlling the number of updates, and this should be obvious as the last thing Facebook wants to do is drive people away from using their platform. Your concerns there may well, hopefully, be unfounded too.