Facebook Like Plug-in Cues Privacy Concerns, Battle with Google

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-04-23

Facebook Like Plug-in Cues Privacy Concerns, Battle with Google

Facebook April 21 launched its most ambitious social Web effort, offering software tools with partners that one analyst said would help Facebook colonize the Web.

The three key components of the news were social plug-ins, Open Graph and Graph API. In the 48 hours since CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched the tools at the F8 developer conference, much has been said.

Pundits are debating the privacy implications as well as the power Facebook will wield over the Web with its Like button on the front and its Open Graph on the back. eWEEK walks through the ramifications of the news here.

1) Do you like the Like button?

More than 75 partners joined Facebook, many of which are offering a Like button, the core Facebook social plug-in. Partner Websites such as Yelp install the Like button and users can click on it.

A click indicates interest in a story or other content, which is transmitted to the user's Facebook page with a link back to, say, IMDB.com. Facebook will populate users' profiles with this information. But info about this "like" is also sent back to partner Websites, and Facebook users can see what the user has liked on those Websites.

2) Instant personalization

Facebook is now offering users the chance to "Connect with your friends on your favorite Websites," such as Yelp, Pandora and Docs.com, the Microsoft FUSE Labs site that lets users share Microsoft Office documents in Facebook.

3) How it works

When you're logged into Facebook, these sites can personalize your experience using your public Facebook information. When you visit an instantly personalized site, the partner can use your public Facebook information to personalize the experience.

The Website will ask for your explicit permission to use any nonpublic info. Each instant personalization partner is required to display a blue Facebook notification at the top of its Website when you first arrive at the site.

4) What does it look like to a user?

GigaOm's Liz Gannes described it well: "Instant personalization means that if you show up to the Internet radio site Pandora for the first time, it will now be able to look directly at your Facebook profile and use public information-name, profile picture, gender and connections, plus anything else you've made public-to give you a personalized experience.

"So if I have already publicly stated through my Facebook interests page that I like a musical artist-say, The Talking Heads-the first song I hear when I go to Pandora will be a Talking Heads song or something that Pandora thinks is similar."

People Are Nervous About What This Means for the Web

5) Too creepy? Opt out!

Does that register on your creepy meter? You can opt out, but not without jumping through some hoops. When you decide to opt out, according to Facebook, note that friends may still share public Facebook information about you to personalize their experience on these partner sites unless you block the application.

If you click "No Thanks" on the Facebook notification on partner sites, partners will delete your data. To prevent your friends from sharing any of your information with an instant personalization partner, block the application: Docs.com, Pandora, Yelp.

6) Why does Facebook want to do this?

The motivation is to increase sharing and improve ad targeting, though there are no publicly revealed plans for how the social network will populate Websites with social ads.

Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang, the analyst who said he believes Facebook is out to colonize the Web, noted: "All this social aggregated content will yield a powerful database of what you and your friends like, the precursor to customized Web experiences and social advertising."

7) The fallout for Facebook's business

Fast Company's Robert Scoble summarized the fears of many prominent geeks and pundits. Noting that Websites with Like buttons will be the norm, not the exception, in a few years, Scoble said this gives the social network tremendous control over the Web:

"My fears are that Facebook might turn evil and use its position against organizations, the way that Apple locks out organizations from shipping apps (do you have [a] Google Voice app on your iPhone yet? I don't). Imagine if Facebook wanted to turn off the New York Times, for instance. It could. And that's a LOT of power to give to one organization, even one that's earned my trust like Facebook has. This is why I keep hoping Google has a clue (so far it hasn't)."

8) What Scoble meant about Google

Google is not the socially inclined machine Facebook is, and many believe Facebook and not Google will be the primary search and advertising vector with its new social Web plans.

Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer wrote in Advertising Age that the intelligence collected from relationships, likes, locations and virtual transactions will be eventually more valuable to advertisers than click-through and search behavior. That means Facebook could eventually out-advertise Google AdWords and AdSense.

9) Open Graph is evil

Chris Messina, an open Web advocate for Google, doesn't see Facebook's Open Graph API as very open:

"When all likes lead to Facebook, and liking requires a Facebook account, and Facebook gets to hoard all of the metadata and likes around the interactions between people and content, it depletes the ecosystem of potential and chaos-those attributes which make the technology industry so interesting and competitive. It's one thing for semantic and identity layers to emerge on the Web, but it's something else entirely for the all of the interactions on those layers to be piped through a single provider."

10) OpenLike could rival Facebook

Facebook's universal Like buttons don't sit well with many open standards advocates not named Chris Messina. Indeed, Hunch co-founder Chris Dixon was so put off by Facebook's march on the social Web that he and other programmers created OpenLike, an open standards-based approach to sharing social data between Websites.

"I feel like everyone is falling asleep while Facebook and Twitter are taking over," Dixon told GigaOm. Will OpenLike gain traction? Maybe, if Google adopts and fuels it.

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