Hard News by Russell Brown


The price is that they get to watch

Guardian readers traditionally like to let other people know that they are Guardian readers. But do even they wish to let the world know, by default, every single story they read? Welcome to Facebook, "frictionless sharing" and the Guardian Facebook app. Be afraid.

Indeed, be even more afraid at the news that Australian blogger Nik Cubrilovic discovered that Facebook's tracking cookies were logging users' website visits even when they were not logged in to Facebook. Cubrilovic raised the issue privately with Facebook, which did sweet nothing for a year -- until he went public. At which point, Facebook fixed the "flaw" and assured Australia's privacy commissioner that everything was tickety-boo.

But the recent Facebook revamp contains more perils than that, as Read Write Web explained:

Be forewarned though, with these apps you're automatically sending anything you read into your Facebook news feed. No "read" button. No clicking a "like" or "recommend" button. As soon as you click through to an article you are deemed to have "read" it and all of your Facebook friends and subscribers will hear about it. That could potentially cause you embarrassment and it will certainly add greatly to the noise of your Facebook experience.

That "everything" might simply be searches for medical stories because you're concerned about a private heath issue -- or it might be porn. Cubrilovic told our researcher that it's entirely likely that porn marketers will want in on sharing. He also says that, contrary to the privacy commissioner's all-clear, questions around Facebook's tracking cookies are far from resolved. He continues to recommend his instructions for setting up secure and private Facebook communication.

Facebook is hardly the only company looking to extract more and more data from its users. The quid pro quo for all these free tools and services is that their owners get to watch us using them. But Facebook is distinguished by its constant pushing of the boundaries, its complex and confusing privacy settings -- and its sheer dominance. 

When we launched NZ On Screen, it seemed unlikely that anyone could displace Google as the top referrer to the site. Facebook did, in spades. [EDIT: I remembered this wrong. Google is still the biggest referrer by some stretch, but Facebook has grown hugely.]  Not using Facebook to communicate with your potential audience isn't really an option now. And we're even seeing a situation where the only way for Americans to sign up with Spotify's streaming music service is to have a Facebook account.

As Dave Winer put it, Facebook is scaring me.

We'll be discussing these issues with Nik Cubrilovic and local expert Ben Gracewood on Media7 this week. If you'd like to join us for tomorrow evening's recording, we'll need you to come to the Victoria Street entrance of TVNZ between 5.15 and 5.40pm. As ever, try and drop me a line to let me know you're coming.

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