Facebook's Open Graph unleashes auto-sharing

With its Timeline format change still looming for many users, Facebook has added even more complexity to its platform with the introduction of more than 60 new applications for Timeline that will automate the sharing of user information.

The new Facebook Open Graph applications, which were debuted in a press conference on Jan. 18, were met with some enthusiasm but also some skepticism. Media reports have raised broad concerns about user privacy as well as about possible “over-sharing” and commercialized sharing of users’ personal information.

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Users of Open Graph would be able to automatically share on their Facebook profiles what music they are listening to, what recipes they are cooking, what films they are watching and what items they are buying. The applications include terms to label the activities.

Presumably, sharing such details of their personal lives could be problematic for some users, including federal employees. For example, a user who purchases political memorabilia from extremist groups on eBay or plans a trip to Somalia on TripAdvisor may raise eyebrows at work or risk a security clearance review.

On a more subtle level, users simply may feel exposed and embarrassed if they automatically share too much information. That is why Pandora music-sharing service has decided not to participate in the Facebook Open Graph, according to Pandora Founder Tim Westergren.

"It's true that music is a social experience, but it's also a very private experience," Westergren told CNN.com. "We have to be very cautious."

At the same time, Facebook officials said they are addressing privacy concerns with detailed privacy settings for the new applications. Additional Facebook privacy tools are expected to be released by mid-February, according to a Jan. 18 report in the AllFacebook.com blog.

The Open Graph features are being added as Timeline, a major format change for Facebook profiles that also brings some privacy concerns, is expected to become mandatory in the coming days or weeks. Currently, it is optional.

The new Facebook Open Graph applications are a major expansion of existing applications including the Washington Post reader and Spotify music program.

The new features enable so-called “frictionless sharing”—automatic sharing--of user activity on websites including eBay, TripAdvisor, Ticketmaster and many others, Facebook officials said.

The Open Graph activity also is expected to bring in a slew of new terms to Facebook—such as “cook” and “want”—most of which have not appeared on the site yet.

Facebook users have a choice about whether to install one, many or none of the Open Graph applications. Once installed, the applications enable automatic publishing of updates on the user’s profile on Facebook. The user, in privacy settings, chooses how broadly to share those updates.

Initial reaction to the Open Graph application was muted, with commentators predicting that some users would quickly adopt the new applications while others would be reluctant.

In addition to privacy concerns, media reports have raised questions about possible over-sharing and depersonalized sharing for commercial purposes:

  • “Facebook’s Open Graph—Boons for Business, Perils for Privacy,” reads the headline on FastCompany’s article about the new applications on Jan. 19.
  • Michael Humphrey, writing in Forbes in a Jan. 19 article, said what bothers him about Open Graph is that it is commercializing private shared information to a greater degree. “What began as a connection platform is becoming a marketing platform," he wrote.
  • Some things are better left unshared, writes Jared Newman in a PC World article on Jan. 19. Sharing too much personal information may suggest a user is not discerning or does not display good taste, he wrote.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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