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

99 Comments

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

99 Comments

Black Iris

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Very helpful article. I would push thumbs up, but I’m afraid of liking any articles now!

Diana Dupuis

I am a “your Mom” referred to in the title. I am also a programmer, a professional web geek, and the one who taught my son programming in the first place. I do not need a young man to show me how to use Facebook and the idea that simply saying “your Mom” conveys to all readers “a person who is techno illiterate” is sexist, ageist, and offensive. Also, in many cases, it is just plain wrong.

Earnest

friends and groups are still viewable to anyone, no matter your settings.

I changed all of my privacy/app/whatever settings to the most restrictive possible, and then searched my name from another dummy account.

From the dummy account, I could see on my wall everyone I friended (in historical order) and what groups I joined.

clickity click.. account deactivated!

John B

I wonder, has anyone written some app to check the facebook privacy settings automatically (even if this is not FB specific?) Or, maybe the same app could “set” settings? Just curious.

John

fritz

“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.”

That would be opt-out, because you are in by default with the OPTion to get OUT.

JC

Just checked my settings and I guess I didn’t realize there were that many settings that needed to be set. Wow, I liked the article and appreciate the tip. I changed my setting to allow only the amount of information I want released to be released.

Nice job. thanks.

@Rick, your arrogance is showing…oops.

anonymous

If you access CNN, say, after you had been on Facebook and had not used the Logout in the Account Tab first, and before you disallowed the personalization option, CNN has permanently associated your profile picture, name, friends list, etc.. with the cookies it left on your computer. So even though you have disallowed the personalization, CNN can still recognize you. So make sure to delete all the CNN cookies first. You can test this yourself by accessing a newspage on CNN. If your photo and name show up in the Comment section after you have disallowed personalization, then delete the CNN cookies in your browser, and try again. They will put new cookies in, but they won’t be tied to your FB name and profile pic and friends.

ray

When I go to block these apps it says
“You have blocked the following applications. This means they cannot access any information about you or contact you. This option is available from the Requests page. If you want to remove the block for any of these applications, click remove.”
Where’s the ‘Request’ page? Sorry I’m an old timer trying to find my way around fb.

Yoron

Can’t say I like Facebook. It’s generating a he** of unnecessary traffic over the Internet, updating egos for egos. It’s using the hyenna traits in us to make us feel ‘connected’ and ‘updated’. BS, what I’m wondering about is if they really delete your ‘personal files and stuff’ when clicking at that ‘I want to get off’ button. 14 days it says, and then you’re gone :)
Really?
Sure…

I guess it’s the same as Hotmail and Gmail, they save your files even if you delete your account. And it’s rather hard to hide your identity, even if you want, no matter where you are, as long as you have family and friends writing. So if you want to be secure? Don’t know, pay sites, if there now is any not saving your mails :)

Ah well, welcome to the information society, whether you want it or not.

Yoron

Can’t say I like Facebook. It’s generating a he** of unnecessary traffic over the Internet, updating egos for egos. It’s using the hyenna traits in us to make us feel ‘connected’ and ‘updated’. BS, what I’m wondering about is if they really delete your ‘personal files and stuff’ when clicking at that ‘I want to get off’ button. 14 days it says, and then you’re gone :)
Really?
Sure…

I guess it’s the same as Hotmail and Gmail, they save your files even if you delete your account. And it’s rather hard to hide your identity, even if you want, no matter where you are, as long as you have familly and friends writing. So if you want to be secure? Don’t know, pay sites, if there now is any not saving your mails :)

Ah well, welcome to the information society, whether you want it or not.

Matt

Interestingly, when I just logged in to FB to opt-out of Instant Personalization, it was already disabled. It also now has it’s own settings page. So – either they’ve now made this opt-in, or the fact that I have a whole bunch of privacy settings set to “Only Me” made “Instant Pervertion” off by default.

Huey

What bothered me is that once again facebook changed something without telling me. If this was as simple and naive as it looks, there should have been an “enable” button instead. What concerns me is that it looks that it is quite important for facebook to manage and leak information out, even for just a short period (until I click disable).

It started off as a networking site with a couple of pictures and some fun comments on people’s walls. The most worrying part of facebook used to be not to break your finger from poking.

If we actually had an opinion regarding our privacy, it should have been enable.

Josh

Kris – that totally did the trick!

As of yesterday clicking on the hyperlinks in the fb help section in Inst. Pers. would bring me to the actual web sites of Yelp, Pandora and Docs, which is why I was having such a hard time figuring out how to block these apps. I guess the app pages just hadn’t populated in fb yet.

I thought I was going crazy in not being able to have anyone understand what I was talking about. All is well and fb’s strategic partners are now blocked as much as can be.

Cheers!

CC

Thanks so much for the info! Sometimes it’s a bit much tryin’ to explain how to protect the ‘rents rights and privacy! This outlines it and is very helpful!

blindhotao

Hi! Thank you very much for the tips. Sometimes I do find these new features to be very troublesome. I mean, I am sure they added the features for everyone’s benefit but then I feel insecure about my information being viewed by people I don’t know. I’ll definitely practice this guide! Thanks again!

kawaiikandee

That’s quite scary! I think facebook has gone to far and soon they will be another social network to take the reigns and facebook will end up like myspace.

Kris

I actually ahd no idea thay you are able to turn off the instant personalize option…thanks for posting this- very useful!

Diesel McFadden

Per Facebook’s FAQs, you can’t turn off programmatic access to “publically accessible information” with ANY privacy settings. Even if it isn’t visible to friends on Facebook (ie. nothing set to “Everyone”), it will ALWAYS be visible to programs from Facebook ID via the API:

“Publicly available information includes your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and Pages. This information makes it easier for friends, family, and other people you know to connect with you.

Publicly available information is visible to people visiting your profile page, and Facebook-enhanced applications (like applications you use or websites you connect to using Facebook) may access this information. It does not allow people without Facebook accounts to contact you.”

Kris

Diesel wrote:

“Publicly available information includes your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and Pages. This information makes it easier for friends, family, and other people you know to connect with you.”

BINGO! That’s exactly where the bite is – in Pages. You may not care the fact that you like “Bacon” is known to the world…but there might be other Pages you’ve liked that you don’t want broadcasted to “Everyone” (political, controversial, etc.)

rww

How about using multiple browsers? Use one browser, say Safari, for facebook – and only facebook, and Chrome, firefox, or flock for everything else. Will this keep the facebook partners from knowing that you are signed on to facebook? Or does this work cross-symultaneous-browsers-ly? Where do the hooks lay, in the cookies or completely in the server-side of transmissions?

David

Browser ‘A’ doesn’t know you are using browser ‘B’. Thus, for example, if you had two Gmail accounts, you could log into one account with one browser and into another account with another browser.

Billy

The article discusses how to turn off Instant Personalization. This is a separate issue from apps having access to your data.

Josh

Actually Billy, with all due respect this is an “Instant Personalization” ( IP ) issue. As the fb opt out directions say for IP say that these apps ( Pandora, Yelp and docs.com ) will still pull your public information through your friends activity with IP unless you MANUALLY block them, them being Yelp, Pandora and docs.com.

So even if you turn off IP, you are still open to IP pulling your public information, through friends, when in turning off IP you thought you were not having your data pulled by Yelp, Pandora and docs.com. You have to read the opt out stuff very clearly and in two places to pick this up. I don’t have the energy to go and find it and post it. Just communicating and trying to be understood in describing fb privacy issues is sooooooooooooooo f&^cing draining.

Josh

So, all I’m asking is

1: Why there is no fb docs.com appliation page so I can block
2: Why Yelp’s fb application page does not have a “block application tab”?
3: Why Pandora’s fb appliation page does?

I just want to block docs.com and Yelp from pulling my info through IP from friends activity.

Make sense?

Thanks

Kris

Josh, et. al

In order to block the applications, goto: http://www.facebook.com/help/?page=1068#

Scroll down to “How do I opt-out of instant personalization?” and expand the paragraph; right-click/open in new window each of the 3 apps listed and block them (Facebook is down at time of this posting, so you’ll have to wait a bit).

Facebook not only made this recent Instant Personalization change very confusing, they also obscured and made more difficult finding exactly WHERE to block these apps by burying the how-to in the FAQ – it SHOULD’VE been linked directly from the “Instant Personalization” settings area.

Hope it helps.

Josh

Social plugins and instant personalization
How do I opt-out of instant personalization?
You can opt-out of instant personalization by disallowing it here. By clicking “No Thanks” on the Facebook notification on partner sites, partners will delete your data. To prevent your friends from sharing any of your information with an instant personalization partner, block the application: Microsoft Docs.com, Pandora, Yelp.

Thanks Billy, above is from the fb help page- but again this doesn’t tell me HOW to block docs.com and Yelp as there is no button on their fb application pages. I can’t even find an application page within fb for docs.com. I seem to not be able to communicate this point effectively, lol. So, I’ll ask again….

How does one MANUALLY block the docs.com and Yelp applications?

Keith In Canada

Josh, just change your profile so no security setting is “Everyone”.

Then go to your photo albums (and anywhere else) and do the same.

(The only info you should have as everyone/public is just enough so your friends can figure out which Josh is the Josh they want to send friend requests to.)

There are at least 2 places in FB to control security. The setting for the data itself, and the setting for the application trying to access that data.

Remember, “Everyone” means everyone. In IT security we use the lingo “public” instead of “everyone”. The confusion is someone at FB used security lingo (“public”) to in Help for regular users, where as the pull down menu for setting security says “everyone”; thus confusing lots of people.

I hope that helps. (I don’t work for FB, but I have 30 years experience figuring out poorly written computer documentation in a wide variety of environments.)

Josh

Hi Keith,

Thanks for you input. I just don’t have the energy to type out the whole thing about how “Instant Personalization” effects applications like Yelp, docs.com and Pandora, which can pull your public information through your friends activity with those 3 applications unless the 3 aforementioned applications are manually blocked. I’m familiar with what you are talking about above but don’t see how it relates to my question. :)

I was able to block Pandora – MANUALLY at Pandora’s fb application page. I can’t even find a docs.com fb application page. Yelp’s fb application page does not have a “block this application” text button like Pandora’s fb application page does.

No offense, but I’m not sure how you took my issue into the answer you provided as from my POV we are talking apples/oranges. Thanks so much.

Keith in Canada

Remain.Simple you make a good point, but the issue is not just Facebook but the architecture of the Internet.

You cannot trust the privacy of anything on an internet computer or on an LAN connected to an internet connected computer.

The only way to have total internet privacy is to never use your real name, address, phone number, credit card, SSN, etc. on an internet connected computer.

Even then, national security agencies can build up a profile of us using supercomputers to analyze what is posted on forums and blogs, through our phrasing, password and userid choice, and vocabulary.

Facebook is less a threat to privacy than Google, and Facebook is far less a threat than the slow reaction to hackers and security threats by government law enforcement and privacy organizations.

With Facebook, just remember that “Everyone” means everyone, i.e. public. And remember that nothing is completely safe from scriptkiddies, hackers and intelligence agencies.

Josh

The main question that no ones seems to be addressing in regards to “Instant Personalization” is how to block Yelp, Docs and Pandora as well as future fb strategic partners.

fb help says “you can block applications by finding the ‘About applications’ page in search. With Pandora I found their main application page in fb and there was a “block application” text button in the upper left hand corner of the Pandora/fb application page. With Yelp this is not the case. With MS Doc, or docs.com there is no application page in fb. So….. how all these articles keep talking about the need to “block applications” so friends interaction with these applications/fb strategic partners don’t pull our information. But no one is giving directions on how to block the said applications; not even fb help is very clear on this.

Can you shed some light on this? I hope I have clearly described the problem. Thanks

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