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Summary:

Facebook launched some fairly impressive new features and services at its recent f8 conference, but some of them were also more than just a little scary. Since a lot of what the company talked about was introduced in either “developer speak” — involving terms like API […]

Facebook launched some fairly impressive new features and services at its recent f8 conference, but some of them were also more than just a little scary. Since a lot of what the company talked about was introduced in either “developer speak” — involving terms like API and JSON — or involved social networking jargon such as “social graph” and “activity map,” we thought it would be handy to break it down for those who aren’t as well versed in such things (maybe your mom, maybe your brother-in-law — maybe you). What do these changes mean? And what should you do if you don’t like the prospect of automatically sharing your activity with everyone you know on Facebook?

Liking without logging in:

The biggest change Facebook has launched will let any website you visit display a simple “like” button, for example on a story at CNN.com — although CNN has decided to use the term “recommend” instead. If you click that button, it will show all of your friends back on Facebook that you liked that story, by posting it on your Facebook wall. It will also show you — in the same box on the CNN site that has the “recommend” button — how many of your friends liked that story.

Note: The most important aspect of this feature is that CNN and other sites will be able to do this without you logging in with a user name and password, and without you clicking any Facebook Connect buttons. All that is required is that you have signed in to Facebook at some point before you visit the site.

Instant personalization:

As Liz explained in her piece on this issue, some sites will be allowed to take this ability even further, and show you personalized content based on the details of your public profile at Facebook, which they will be able to read and interpret without asking you. At the moment, only three sites have this extra ability, which Facebook calls “instant personalization” — they are Docs.com (an online document-hosting and editing site from Microsoft), the music site Pandora and the review site Yelp.

Note: The important thing to note about this feature is that it is opt-in by default, which means it is turned on automatically, and you have to specifically turn it off if you don’t want these services to read your profile and customize their services for you.

What should you do?

The easiest way out of all of these new features, of course, is to simply not log in to Facebook, or to cancel your account. In order to do that, you have to go to this page, down at the bottom, and click “deactivate.”

Note: Doing this doesn’t actually cancel your Facebook account, it simply hides it. As Facebook explains on its help pages, “[Y]our profile and all information associated with it are immediately made inaccessible to other Facebook users. What this means is that you effectively disappear from the Facebook service. However, if you want to reactivate at some point, we do save your profile information (friends, photos, interests, etc.).” If you want to actually delete it, you have to go here (this link will only work if you are already logged in to Facebook).

But what if you don’t want to cancel your account? Then you can do one of several things:

* Turn off instant personalization: Uncheck the box at the bottom of this page. This will prevent Facebook from allowing Pandora and Docs.com and Yelp to show you customized content based on your Facebook details.

But as the site Librarian By Day explains, this won’t prevent your friends from sharing certain data about you with those services. And how do you stop that?

* Block those applications: If you don’t want any information to be shared with those specific apps, either by you or by your friends, you have to specifically block each and every one of those apps (luckily there are only three so far).

You can control which applications are allowed to share your data, as well as what your friends can share about you, on this page. All of your privacy settings — such as what turns up when people search for you, who you have blocked, and so on — can be controlled on this page.

* Don’t click the “like” button at any of the sites you visit: This will prevent you from sharing that information with your Facebook friends, or having it show up on your wall, and sites won’t be able to send updates to your news feed.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Why New Net Companies Must Shoulder More Responsibility

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Jacob & Kiki Hantla

This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com

  1. just to be clear: if i log in and then log out of facebook, then i visit cnn.com and click the recommend button, will cnn be still able to share with my facebook friends?

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    1. No. You need to be logged in to Facebook for it to do that.

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  2. Scandalous.

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  3. Did you actually read what this does – it only shares information you have already flagged as visible to EVERYONE. Not just info available to Friends or to a Family list – but EVERYONE. It’s the sort of stuff you leave available so people can tell it’s you – like your hometown or location – not your personal details you don’t want given out.

    If you don’t make the data public on Facebook – nobody sees it – not even these web sites.

    Morons.

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    1. That’s true, Rick — it does only use your public information. Still worth letting people know what is involved though, I think, and how to change it if they wish.

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    2. Yes, but the partner sites get this information automatically, without you providing it to them. My name, city and profile picture are public on Facebook, but there’s normally no way to link my browser to my profile (if you’re not Facebook and I haven’t explicitly signed into your site with Connect).

      Wouldn’t you feel weird walking into a store and having some random clerk already know all this public information about you? It’s just public data, right?

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      1. Maya Grinberg Sunday, April 25, 2010

        Thats a great way of thinking about it, actually.

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    3. For the purposes of this feature, the following information is always public and you can’t change this:

      Your name, gender, and profile picture.
      Your location, and home city.
      Your networks and Pages (which includes any interests you’ve converted over to the new system).
      Your friends list.

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      1. At least for some sites (e.g., CNN), clicking on the “like” button in a page makes that page part of your public profile (available to anyone).

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      2. Your friends list is not always public. Actually, I have seen a lot of profiles with most of the stuff you listed made private.

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  4. Yo Rick, settings I had set to ‘Friends Only’ reverted back to default after this new change. My birth date, job, and location were all of a sudden available to ‘Everyone’ that I had previously set to ‘Friends Only’. I did not choose this. Facebook did.

    I’m not a moron. But you are certainly ill-informed with FBs deceptive practices. They are banking on people like you to not pay attention to the changes they have made. That’s how they succeed.

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  5. The concern is how much tracking Facebook and other 3rd party sites can do of your activities.

    Check out the faqs on this service here:
    http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=1068

    This snippet “No information is published back to Facebook unless you interact with social plugins or explicitly authorize a website to publish to Facebook on your behalf.” implies that no information is published back to FB, but as a web services administrator I know that unless they intentionally are turning off logging if the 3rd party site is accessing a FB service that identifies you, that access is most likely logged somewhere at the very least to identify potential problems with the service.

    How does the 3rd party site know it’s you visiting the site? They have to do some kind of query into Facebook and that query will show up in a web log somewhere on Facebook servers.

    Note the snippet on this page “By clicking “No Thanks” on the Facebook notification on partner sites, partners will delete your data. ”
    The 3rd party site must know some information about you by you visiting the 3rd party site (whatever personal information made available. The minimum is your name which really is enough.)
    I’ve opted for this No Thanks, but I still see a “personalized” page for Yelp. It sounds like from the snippet that the company “forgets” my data, but that doesn’t indicate that FB forgets my data.

    Any service that implements this new Facebook protocol, is basically giving Facebook a growing monopoly over your identity, your browsing habits, and potentially your friends and their browsing habits.

    If you look at any big company web service (I’m thinking of Google/Yahoo here) you will see detailed privacy standards as to how long they will retain your information. With FB integrating a bunch of sites with their service as the central hub they are encroaching on privacy with the expressed intent of improving the user experience. It would be nice if FB actually identified exactly what they log, how they log, and how long they save these logs.

    Check out

    http://graph.facebook.com/YOURFACEBOOKUSERNAME

    to see what information is shared about you publicly. It may be more than you realize if your settings on Facebook are more permissive.

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  6. This instruction is very helpful. I don’t want to share anything for third party developer or company. The problem with this is opp out instead of opp in.

    I hate facebook feature to share everything about me without I am knowing. Facebook is privacy hell

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  7. Aaarrgh, now you’ve got me all confused, should I click the ‘share on Facebook button’ at the bottom of this article or not?

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    1. Yes, please do :-)

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  8. You don’t need to block each specific app because you have “What your friends can share about you” settings in Privacy Settings. And there you can choose what your friends can share about you.
    Much easier and gives you more options if you need it.

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  9. I am sick and tired of facebook always duping peoplewith their private info. Every time they make a significant privacy change, they leave the box checked to accept, as default! A lot of my friends don’t even use or change that privacy box, so i imagine there must be millions of users around the world who have absolutely no idea! A huge proportion of facebook users are not that intelligent to understand it all, that’s a fact. It’s highly unethical for facebook to do this to people – I don’t like it whatsoever.

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  10. Thank you guys, best article/ guide i could found so far on this particular subject. keep up the good work!
    cheers
    R

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    1. Thanks, Roger — glad you liked it.

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