Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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Facebook and its frictionless eavesdropping

Ivor Tossell turned his gimlet eye to the topic of Facebook’s frictionless sharing, one more step to have everyone operating completely stripped of privacy in its sphere.

From The Globe and Mail, posted April 10:

Facebook, and websites desperate for a slice of its precious traffic, are pioneering a new world of automatic disclosure in which the things you do anywhere on the Web can be posted straight to your Facebook page. The idea is called “frictionless sharing” – and it’s closed on us like a bear trap.

It works like this: All websites need traffic. The more people visit, the more pages they serve up, and the more ads they can show. Traditionally, search engines like Google have been a dominant source of traffic, but social-network sharing, which thrives when users post links to stories and videos they like on their Facebook pages, has been steadily gaining ground.

The wizards at Facebook saw that the idea of social sharing has only one flaw: It requires users to actually decide to share something. Their new system rectifies the niggling problem of voluntary decision making. Instead of requiring users to choose to share articles, publications can simply get users’ permission once, and from then on, share everything the users browse. You could call it “frictionless” – a more appropriate title would be “negative-option sharing.”

Now, for instance, the Huffington Post is happy to post each individual article you’ve read to your Facebook timeline. Other AOL and Yahoo properties have jumped on-board as well. Even august papers like The Washington Post and The Guardian are using a slightly dialled-back system that reports on clicks the user makes within Facebook. Nor is it just publications: Everyone from Pinterest to Kobo is itching to publish your activities to Facebook and grab a slice of traffic in return.

“Frictionless sharing” devalues the act of sharing, which means making a conscious decision about whether a given article has value to its intended audience.

As a reader, I don’t want to see everything else that someone I know may have clicked on during their web travels.

This is both creepy and counterproductive. It’s one reason why I’m not a huge Facebook fan.

Tossell concluded this way:

Part of the allure of Facebook has been the ability to project an image of yourself to your peers. The company has long realized that its users aren’t worried about privacy in the abstract, but they do care about appearances. “Frictionless sharing” threatens to strip users of that control. Privacy isn’t the heart of social networking, but discretion is. And users who find they can’t trust Facebook to maintain that discretion will start wondering if there’s a social network that can.

Wed, April 11 2012 » Main Page, Media