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Your Mom's Guide to Those Facebook Changes, and How to Block Them

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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 — 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 (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 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

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99 Responses to “Your Mom's Guide to Those Facebook Changes, and How to Block Them”

  1. Keith in Canada

    Also the only data on you your friends can share via “Instant personalization” is your public (privacy setting “Everyone”) profile data.

    If your Facebook profile privacy settings are correct, nobody is going to see anything about you that they cannot already see by going to Facebook and looking up your name.

    Personally, the only public (Everyone) information on me is (should be) my city and one folder of safe photos. (This is revealed to help people figure out which of the several persons with my first and last name is their friend when making friend requests.)

    Again, the misunderstanding is Facebook’s fault for not being consistent for using “public” in some places and “everyone” in other places.

  2. I think the bit about “instant personalization” is based on a misinterpretation caused by Facebook’s inconsistent terminology.

    The way I read it, “instant personalization” only uses public data from your profile (privacy setting “Everyone”).

    If you set the privacy for part of your profile to public (i.e. “Everyone”), you should not be surprised that everyone can see it.

    If you have private information in your profile, and the privacy is set to “Everyone” that is something you should change in your Facebook privacy settings.

    I’ve asked Facebook to clarify this. They should be consistent in their use of either “Everyone” or “Public” to describe the setting for data anyone can see.

    • That’s not the issue with Instant Personalization. It’s not just that if Yelp knew who you were they could view your public information, it’s that Facebook is telling Yelp who you are.

  3. I don’t think they’ve rolled this out to everyone yet (it happened to my profile just last night), but Facebook is (or will be?) changing any and all data in your profile into links to public pages. Even though YOU can control who can see what on your profile, information on the pages is very public.

    For example: I like the show Glee. It was listed as one of my favorite television shows. I was not, however, a fan of the Glee page. Now, if I want to list Glee as a favorite television show, it automatically makes me a fan of the Glee page. When I “Unlike” the Glee page, Glee no longer shows up on my profile as a favorite television show. The Glee page is public – if I “like” it, the public can find out.

    For something like Glee, this seems innocuous. In the broader scheme of things, however, it can be an issue. Think of any issues, activities, etc you enjoy that you don’t want to be broadcast to the entire public. With the new Facebook program, you either have to take this information of your profile entirely or be comfortable sharing it with the general public. Privacy is completely out the window.

  4. Without further “personalization” Facebook’s annual revenue per user – $1 Billion / 500 million users = $2.00 a year – will continue to languish @ just $0.005 a day from each user.

  5. Thanks for sharing–the window just popped up on my profile, I’ve turned off those settings. I don’t see how they can keep information working without you being logged in, though (by default, you stay logged in to Facebook until you manually log out).

    There’s also some group on Facebook with detailed instructions on how to properly deactivate an account. I think it’s called How to Deactivate Your Account.

  6. I can’t stand that stupid feature…Do they think we are all unintelligent idiots? They have reasons and ulterior motives for doing this…Just like Amazon tracks where you shop and then later on you will see a pop up ad on the same web site you were on with advertisements…Kind of made me stop and look around my computer to see if someone was peeking through…I don’t know…Kinda creepy..I’m just say’in…

  7. Thanks for the heads up. It wasn’t really clear to me how to block these applications because I just got a checkbox and when I tried to uncheck it, it warned me that people who used these apps would still be able to use my info. It directed me to FB’s FAQ which shed no light on it either.

    I had to click each app and block them individually.

    What amazed me is the number of people using these apps.

    • I dislike the fact that we cannot have any privacy on our friends and also that FB has made our profiles available to friends of friends when some of us want to stay private. I block everything to be honest. The newsfeed thing is sooo stupid. If I notice one of my wall postings to someone in a newsfeed I delete it and email them. Quite a few people I know have shut down their accounts and I tell you that FB is getting close to pushing people too far and many will start deleting their accounts in the next few years if it keeps up. They think that they can outsmart us..NOT!

  8. This is very helpful. Privacy is always an issue. Certain aspects of communicating data seem fine. Others, not so much. Appreciate the clarity of what to leave on (and what to turn off), at our discretion of course.

    The comments are also illuminating. Just one more reason to keep our social networking activities focused, in a viral community. And likewise, those of our kids.

  9. I think I’m going to cancel all my social media profiles – this is going to far and secondly I’m not that interested in myself or my friends to brag about each other all day and what we “liked”.

  10. @Rick Where did you get that from ? Can you share a link ? I have read the statement a couple times and it is totaly unclear. If what you say is true, then FB has a confusing UI.

    “If your friend uses an application that you do not use, you can control what types of information the application can access”

    ^^^ It does not say that the only information is the public one.

    • It says it right next to the check box: “Allow select partners to instantly personalize their features with my public information when I first arrive on their websites.”

      It’s under: Privacy Settings – Applications and Websites – Instant Personalization

  11. Don’t go along with stupid newspeak. “Opt-in by default” is what is commonly known as opt-out.

    @Rick: You weren’t already making this available to thousands of websites. That’s very different from making it available to whomever finds you on Facebook.

    • It says it right next to the check box: “Allow select partners to instantly personalize their features with my public information when I first arrive on their websites.”

      Public Information is what you classify as viewable by Everyone. If you don’t want your name or city available on Facebook, make it visible to Friend only. Nobody will ever be able to find you again, but that’s still your choice.

      I don’t understand what people are getting so upset about. Every time you swipe your debit card or credit card the retailer gets your name and they often ask for your zip code too – which you give them. Some places ask for your phone number too. Where’s the outrage about that?

      • Rick,

        You’re not thinking this through. Purchasing something with a credit card is an entirely different relationship than simply browsing the internet. A credit card transaction is a specific action taken by you right at the moment of purchase. You don’t buy something unless there is a certain amount of trust between you and the merchant. The merchant and your bank are under regulation as to what they can do with the personal information collected. And all the data doesn’t go back to Facebook to be collated with everyone else’s.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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

  15. Jennifer

    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:

    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

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

  16. Stout Beer

    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.

  17. 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.


    • 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?

    • 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.

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