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Oh Snap! What If Facebook Made Your Browsing Records Public?

May 14th, 2010

Facebook’s song and dance on privacy and control of user data can be summed up as one step forward, two steps back. And tough that may be the case, there are people who take one or more of the following stances (in some varying form):

  • “Dude, you’re putting it out there in the public. If you don’t want it out there, don’t share it.”
  • “This is the new paradigm of how people interact. In the future, we won’t be so critical about what people said, 5, 10 or 20 years from now.”
  • “It’s Facebook’s platform and business. Don’t chastise them for monetizing it.”

So, despite the privacy and control SNAFUs of Facebook and the notable voluntary account deletions, a majority of the 12 quadrillion users remain, doing their social thing.  I mean, who would want to give up Facebook?  Imagine not being able to lurk, spy, goggle at pics (not Google).  I’m not certain what FB’s ratio of read vs. write activity is, but I imagine it leans very heavy to the former.  FB is the best voyeuristic platform ever.  So if a lack of controls and a binge on over-sharing is taking place — that’s a small price to pay for what we get out of Facebook, right?  Maybe… until one piece of data is no longer private.

I Know Which Facebook Profile You Stalked Last Summer (and just this afternoon)
Browsing data. We all know that FB has that big juicy access_log.  And that, my friends, is the holy grail of  privacy for all of Facebook’s users.  Every single action you’ve performed.  Every profile you’ve visited.  Every photo you’ve viewed — yes, every time of the last 45 times you’ve looked at that photo, that action has been logged.  That is valuable data.  It’s much more valuable than “Like” button clicks.  Hell, you just don’t “Like” that photo, dude, you’re in love with that photo.

There are several degrees for which this browsing data can be misused/abused or Zucked.  First degree — Facebook allows advertisers to see page view metrics in raw form, and potentially mash in some meta data for increased profile building and targeting for both the publisher and viewer of data.  Second degree — Facebook puts a visit counter on all pages/photos/updates/comments.  It’s a fairly normal thing to see around the Web, and it’s a silent measurement of what is popular.  View counters are on YouTube, TwitPic, Flickr — it’s considered acceptable in those contexts, why not Facebook?  N-th degree, Facebook publishes your Facebook browsing data on the open graph, so everyone can see who the profiles, posts, and photos you read most often.

“You’re Crazy, Man. They’d Never Do That.”
What prevents them from opening up these statistics?  I mean, the Facebook Open Graph is the perfect vehicle.. all of your visit and click statistics wrapped neatly in a JSON object, real time, on demand.  Marketers thirst for this data.. like Edward to Bella.  Voyeurs and exhibitionists, shuddering, clamoring.  There’s a lot of money locked up in those access logs and statistics.  So again, what prevents FB from unlocking that data to the general public?  Surely, no law will be broken when the terms of service has been amended.  So maybe… respect?

And Now, A Message to the 26 Year Young Wise Man
You see, Mr. Zuckerberg, despite the fact that we are changing the methods of human interaction through technology, opening up and sharing things with each other in new ways and with increasing abundance, there are social axioms.  The most basic and simple expectation is that, in any system, be it online or offline, we will be treated with respect.  That’s the lowest common denominator.  For users to question whether this most basic expectation is being met should make you think twice before you make that next policy change.

“It’s public, dude. If you don’t want your browsing stats out there, don’t visit Facebook.”
This all may sound like a stretch — Facebook outing your browsing data, and then people coming out to defend the outing of your browsing data.  But if Facebook ever does this, then yes, there will be those boneheads out there that just take what they give you (and take from you) and never question why.  It is not a stretch.  If Zuckerberg sees this as an evolution of social norms and just goes for it, maybe then you will rethink the value, trust, and relationship you have with Facebook.