Facebook Connect: laying the seeds for revolution

Posted by Emory Kale

Facebook Connect is an example of hope dangled within reach. The question is, once you give people a taste of this kind of freedom, won’t they want more? More means my data isn't my stuff anymore. It doesn’t belong to Facebook, MySpace, Google, or anyone else for that matter. It just sits out there for everyone to mess with. My privacy cannot be protected by a Privacy Policy. This kind of rush to interoperability, openness, and the platform of social networking are threatening my libertarian values.

Facebook Connect arguably kicked the interoperability agenda into a higher gear when people became aware of it last May. MySpace, among others, rushed to play catch up. Catch up in the PR sense. However, no one has quite managed to explain how Facebook, or any other social network, is going to overcome the inherent lack of personal security that comes with becoming more open. This is not about your login and password. It’s about being identifiable on the Internet. It’s also about who owns the content you create. Up until now, you could remain relatively obscure and anonymous on the Web. Social networks have made it a positive to openly court attention. Up until recently, what you created was yours because, it was rarely online. Systematically, we have been putting more of ourselves online: photos, favorite pastimes, and personal relationships.

Now, let’s assume you don’t care. You like social networks. You still have a personal copy of your photos somewhere, and the rest of your content online is kind of done with once it’s out there. Let’s assume Facebook Connect succeeds. You may think it is great to have the ability to share various online experiences and apps with your social circle online, but you are, for want of a better term, the platform. The platform knows where you go, what you like, what you don’t like, and how you like to do certain things. Your daily reading habits will become more accessible, for example. Your flow through the Web is a shared experience, and increasingly, apathy and inertia sets in, and you decide to just update either your Facebook page, or MySpace, or LinkedIn, or whatever. One funnel for who you are to those that may be interested in you. Of course, you can have a “public” persona and a private one. You’re you on Facebook, and you’re that other you, Pervy McPete, off platform. Sounds almost Matrix-like in a desperate, analogy sort of way.

But, genuine concerns about personal space and privacy are important to consider from a cultural perspective. A culture that encourages people to have an online persona that is so open may also be creating a society that is less daring, and more prone to repeating bad jokes, or watching inane viral videos. And, you are the platform. The platform will need revenue, and it will try and find the quickest way to the money by targeting you as effectively as possible.

Shouldn’t we be suspicious of any system that seems to “know” what we want? We wouldn’t tolerate the same level of intrusion from Microsoft Windows, or our cell phone company. Yet, many of us are blind to the implications of it within the context of social networks. We somehow assume that we are protected by a site’s Privacy Policy. Is that really true? Can we really trust a commercial organization not to exploit us for gain, especially if they find a way around our pesky concerns? We’ve never put so much of ourselves out there so publicly. Never happened. It’s as if there is a personal journal of you online, and you don’t have any real control over it, only what goes in it. Try to hide it and it defeats the object of you having it. By its very nature, it has to be public.

Interoperability and openness between sites, and their data has become more of an argument about why not then, exactly how are we going to get this right for the user. Maybe, as users, we have become too engrossed by the process than the results.