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The Changes at Facebook: The Good, The Bad and The Very Ugly

With its most recent changes, Facebook is aiming for a more social and accessible web. But at what cost to privacy?

As Facebook closes in on half a billion users, it’s clear that it is a behemoth in the web world, arguably on par with Google, Microsoft and Apple in terms of sheer reach. And the changes announced at Facebook’s f8 developer conference seems to suggest Zuckerberg & Co. are intent on integrating themselves more and more tightly into the internet at large.

Now that we’ve had a couple of days to digest the news, it seems it’s time to reflect on what these changes mean. Some of them will make the web a more usable and friendly place for a broader slice of the population. Some of them are a bit boring. And some of them – well, some of them are downright scary.

The Good

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So, what do Facebook think are so great about all these changes?

A More Integrated and Social Web

The core of the changes at Facebook is the idea that entire web should be social. See, right now, if you write a restaurant review on Yelp, there’s no easy way to let others know this unless they both also use Yelp and have friended you. Similarly, if you’re super-excited about a gadget you see on a tech site, to share it with others you have to cut and paste the link into Facebook. The web is segmented and divided with no clear way to aggregate your activity from all those different sites and networks you use.

Facebook’s new Open Graph initiative helps with this by bringing your social connections from Facebook into other sites. Head into Yelp and you’ll be able to see which restaurants or bars your Facebook friends have liked, and you’ll quickly be able to add your Facebook friends, essentially integrating aspects of the the two services into each other.

A More Accessible Internet

In much the same way that Twitter wanted to be @anywhere, Facebook is now everywhere. A new universal ‘Like’ button works in a manner similar to a Digg button – any website can quickly add the button to a post, and users who click it will have that activity show up in their Facebook activity feed. By doing so, Facebook becomes the platform that integrates all the scattered parts of your web experience in one place.

Part of the appeal of Facebook is often that it’s like an ‘internet-lite’. While many geeks find this aspect of the social network a bit objectionable, many people do not. There’s a reason your Grandpa is now you’re friend on Facebook, right? By storing and centralizing users’ interests, users who are logged into Facebook can get recommendations on any website from their friends. Time Magazine, for example, will suggest stories to you based on both your interests (as listed on FB) and on what your Facebook friends have liked.

What’s more, the universal Like button that can be put onto any website allows so that even the most technologically-challenged users can share things with their Facebook friends. So now mom can show you all those articles about getting married and making babies! Ahem.

A Clearer Sense of Community

Another new feature is Community Pages, which are created around topics and ideas rather than brands or personalities. So say you’re a fan of Indian Cooking – you can create or just go to the page for that topic, join, and then get updates about put into your feed, which is great for keeping up with your interests.

A Better Google Documents

As Google’s online Documents program starts to lag a bit, Microsoft made a surprise announcement:, which allows you to work on shared online documents with your Facebook friends. Beyond a pretty slick interface, it also means Facebook finally gets some business-savvy, which can only help to cement its massive user base – and if they ever start to leverage all that contact information, send Linked In scrambling back to the drawing board.

The Bad (or the meh)

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Well, this isn’t really ‘bad’ per se, but Facebook also announced a toolbar that will sit above a web site and allow users to share and like things. I think we can all agree that seamless is better – I’m sure I’m not the only one who closes any toolbar the moment it pops up – and anything that gets between you and the web is just a pain. You can file this one under M for ‘meh’.

The Very Ugly

big brother watching you
For all the benefits to Facebook’s changes, there’s another side to these changes. And just like in the past, it’s Facebook’s tenuous grasp on those little, unimportant things like ‘privacy’ and ‘the open internet’ that’s the problem here. Looked at this way, the changes at Facebook mean the Zuck and Co. are not only joining Microsoft, Google and Apple in the battle for ‘most influential company’ – but for the title of ‘the web’s most evil company’ too.

Apps Now Know Way Too Much About You

Facebook applications can access a hell of a lot about you: your hometown, your likes and dislikes, your favorite movies and music – basically anything you’ve listed in your profile. That means that any application – that may or may not have good security – has information on millions of users. Can you imagine what kind of data is on the servers at Farmville?

What’s worse, with Facebook’s new Open Graph API, all those likes travel with you as you surf the ‘net. Log into Pandora and you’ll get music based on what you’ve listed on Facebook. Things you may want to keep private on Facebook may follow you around the web – and vice versa.

It’s Hard to Opt Out

So, after the huge backlash against Beacon, Facebook have learned their lesson, right? Nope.

Opting out of ‘instant personalization’ may stop applications and other websites from using your info, but your friends can still share things about you. If you want to stop all potential sharing beyond your friends, you need to block each app individually. Not exactly user friendly.

A Universal Service Is Not the Goal

The aim of Facebook’s new integration is that the whole web be like your own social network. Except, here’s the thing: I like having my social networks separate.  My friends on Twitter are not the same as those on Facebook, nor are they the same as on Yelp or any other platform.

Everyone’s life is like this. You have a core group of friends and then a group of peripheral and online friends who you don’t want to know everything. In attempting to make everything available to everyone, Facebook are trying to tear down walls between social groups that are not only normal and common, but healthy.

This Is More About Facebook’s Market Share Than User Happiness

While it’s true that some users will benefit from these changes, the underlying from Facebook here is: “how do we cement our enormous growth?”.

The answer seems to be that Facebook wants to make itself the social backbone of the web. All of these moves smack of a company that is attempting to put its own business interests first and foremost above the specific needs of its users. Facebook has constantly been criticized for its stance on privacy – and they don’t seem to listen.

For the reasons outlined above, this has some serious downsides.

Conclusion: Facebook: You Got Some ‘Splaining to Do

You know that Facebook friend who’s really a professional contact and you added only out of politeness? With Facebook’s new approach to integration, you’ll soon know far more about that person than you might want to: their music tastes, their activities, what they’re reading – and in the future, probably even where they are (Facebook’s Foursquare-like location services are probably on their way).

By doing so, Facebook isn’t just changing a web service – they’re the changing the ideal of privacy. What’s worse, they seem to be making changes while banking on the idea that the bulk of their userbase won’t even be aware of the downsides. It’s underhanded and it’s no way to continue to build the service.

Making a more accessible web is a noble thing to do. But Facebook’s attempts here have fallen short of the mark by unfairly and excessively encroaching on users’ privacy. And unless they make changes soon, they deserve every ounce of backlash that comes their way.

Note: If you wish to delete your Facebook account, you can start by clicking here.

  1. Zuckerberg knows Facebook isn’t cool any more. He sees the usage stats. Users visit the site less and trust it less. They are keeping a profile page in place but are increasingly finding other places to be.

    We are now seeing Zuckerberg’s remedy for this problem. You can leave his site but he will take his site to you. He will follow you around the web with it and fling it in your face at all those places you find more interesting until, he hopes, you give up giving up on it.

  2. This is going to make companies even more apprehensive about allowing employee access to social media apps on the network.

    If you’re one of those who’s blocked at work, here’s a helpful resource. It’s a whitepaper called “To Block or Not. Is that the question?”

    It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, SharePoint, etc.)

    Share it with the IT Dept.

  3. One privacy has been trivialized and the people become accustomed to it, the government will step right in and nobody will “care”. Facebook is intentionally subversive in the way it implements these features, and with methods such as turning them on by default. People are trusting by nature, and do not even always understand 50 pages of a legalese privacy (or lack-of) policy. Companies like Facebook are banking on exploiting people’s trust and justifying this unethical behavior with the claim that hey, you signed an agreement. “You trusted us and we screwed you. It’s your fault for trusting us! Should have read the 50,000 words of fine print!” It holds up in court but it’s despicable, unethical behavior.

  4. They should just make Groups that you can catalog people in.

    You might have a Friends group, Work Group, Hot Girl Group, what ever group. Every time you post something. Picture, Comment, link, intrest, Whatever. You also have to check mark what social group can see it.

    I don’t have my parents or co-workers on my facebook because I don’t want them to see all my party pictures. If they could be in a separate group that would be great.

  5. Zuckerberg knows Facebook isn’t cool any more. He sees the usage stats. Users visit the site less and trust it less. They are keeping a profile page in place but are increasingly finding other places to be.

    We are now seeing Zuckerberg’s remedy for this problem. You can leave his site but he will take his site to you. He will follow you around the web with it and fling it in your face at all those places you find more interesting until, he hopes, you give up giving up on it.

  6. I and most of my friends did not sign up with Facebook to have everything up for public consumption. We signed up to stay in contact with mutual friends, maybe make some new friends, and perhaps, waste some time playing silly games.
    I don’t mind having my basic profile up publicly, but that is it.
    I don’t need Facebook following me around the internet with their “Like” button, so that they know what websites I like, or knowing the comments I put on them.
    Facebook claims to have hundreds of millions of users – but what they don’t share is the actual usage. Also since they never truly delete anyones profile, do we really know what they are telling us is true? Most everyone I know uses it occasionally and most like me, have decreased the amount of time spent on Facebook over they years – the novelty has worn off, some have gone so far as to “delete” their accounts.

  7. “Are you really opposed to CNN knowing what kind of news you’re interested in reading before you get there?”

    To an extent. There’s been much talk of how tailored news sites are leaving Americans less informed about current events than earlier generations. People may just read what they want to hear and miss out on other matters affecting their lives.

    “Or Pandora knowing your music tastes?”

    If the algorithm is good, music recommendation sites can expand one’s horizons greatly. But if the algorithm is bad, you end up listening to the same old thing and potentially missing out on things that might not be to your preconceived tastes, but which will blow your mind nonetheless.

  8. It sounds like a bunch of additions that I have no interest in. And while Facebook is collecting a ton of data from its users, and will continue to collect even more, it’s not like it isn’t already happening all over the web.

    Take Google for instance. The amount of data they have on internet users is leagues beyond what Facebook is doing.

  9. Instead of blocking each app individually (which I recommend anyways for ones frequently used by friends) you can go into your Privacy settings then under Applications. From there you can block the types of information the applications that your friends are using can access.

  10. It’s possible to delete your Facebook account.
    Here’s the step by step:

    Honestly though, by this point with all of the concerns with Facebook it’s a great idea to either delete your account or change all of your profile information to false data.

    Zuckerberg is profiting off of everyone, and he couldn’t care less what happens to his users.

  11. “Things you may want to keep private on Facebook may follow you around the web “….. Seriously…. why would you post anything to Facebook that you really wanted to keep private?

  12. These comments are so enlightening and confirm that FB has crossed the line from a social network for its users to a social network using the users to cash out.

  13. Privacy? Isn’t Facebook a social networking site? Where you are supposed to be social, and network and like…SHARE things?

    I don’t think it’s a hermit anti-networking site.
    Don’t put anything too personal on there. And just opt out of some of these things if you want.

  14. I think people would be willing to leave Facebook if a few things happend.
    Something better comes along; kinda like a Facebook meets youtube, Grooveshark, All in one messaging and Email and what ever else you can aggregate in to one place.
    Most importantly , easily have the opportunity to transfer ALL your friends over with the click of a button.

  15. I don’t know why so many people argue that facebook is bad because everyone is ueing it now. It’s very popular and convenient. I love using facebook to communicate with my friends.

  16. FB recently change the friends’ request to trick you. In the past, if another person recommend someone to be your friend, it shows clearly as such. Now, FB just says that someone request to be added as your friend. This is cheating. There are some people you know in the past who have been stuck up and you do not want to have anything to do with them. Now, FB is tricking you to show as if the guy/girl is extending his/her hand. There is no way within FB to feedback to them, probably a way to prevent you giving feedback.

  17. facebook is really a great site, but there are some shortcomings in the Internet environment for disabled insanlarıda think that major sites like Facebook can do something like that in my opinion it the perfect hand atmalılar Up breathe again

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