Facebook changes are most daring yet

Recent changes at Facebook designed to allow users to open up their connections throughout the Web are sparking questions about privacy concerns.

The changes, which were announced by last week at F8, include “like” buttons that users can click to instantly share content on Facebook.  At the centerpiece of the changes: the “Open Graph” initiative.

“Today the Web exists mostly as a series of unstructured links between pages and this has been a powerful model, but it’s just the start,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (in a video embedded in the F8 link). “The Open Graph puts people at the center of the Web. It means the Web can become a set of personally and semantically meaningful connections between people and things. ‘I am friends with you…I like this band.’” (Er, I like this company/product/service.)

Zuckerberg said the changes are the “most transformative thing” the six year-old company has ever done online. There are currently 400 million people on Facebook and the rate is growing faster than ever, he said.  Indeed, social networks such as Facebook are gradually starting to eclipse search engines like Google and Yahoo as the initial platform on the Web.

Although users can limit the appearance of such “likes” on their Facebook profile, they should consider these likes and recommendations public information, meaning that they could appear elsewhere on Facebook or be accessed by applications and sites, Facebook wrote in an official blog post. Call it instant socialization. With the new changes, some sites will be allowed to take this ability even further, showing users personalized content based on the details of their public profile on Facebook, said Bloomberg Businessweek, which provides a helpful user’s guide to the changes.

New York Senator Charles Schumer has sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission that specifically mentioned Facebook, asking the FTC to provide guidelines that prohibit access to private information without user permission.

Debra Aho Williamson, senior analyst for the research firm eMarketer, told SFGate.com:  “The biggest question to me is whether consumers and companies are going to want to cede the social Web to Facebook. And maybe some privacy concerns will come out that we haven’t even thought about yet.”

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