Facebook’s Instant Personalization continues to concern people who worry about privacy on social networks. Here are the questions about it that I wish I’d been asked about it.
Q: What is Instant Personalization?
A: It’s Facebook’s pleasant way of saying that it automatically shares your account information with partner sites according to the privacy settings you’ve chosen.
Q: What’s “instant” about it?
A: Unless you’ve opted out, your data is now being shared. (This is true in many countries. Facebook hasn’t turned Instant Personalization on in Slovakia or Finland, for instance.)
Q: With whom exactly is Facebook sharing my data?
A: The original three were Pandora, Yelp and Microsoft Docs. In fall of 2010, Facebook added Rotten Tomatoes and Scribd. Then in winter of 2010, Clicker and TripAdvisor went live. More partners are coming.
A: Facebook is a business. We don’t know the financial arrangements behind these partnerships but they are all a part of Facebook’s broader strategy to spread its functionality or ‘like’ buttons anywhere on the Internet it can.
Q: Can they do this?
A: Yep. It’s in the site’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities AKA its terms and conditions. Grab a magnifying glass and a quadruple mocha, you’ll find it in there.
Q: Is this bad? Why am I shivering?!
A: Wired.com’s Threat Level blog called the recent implementation of Instant Personalization with Scribd a “privacy nightmare” because, among other reasons, it was difficult to opt out at first. Scribd has improved its opt out. But it’s still annoying.
Q: Why is it annoying?
A: Several reasons. 1. Facebook can partner with any site it chooses. Unless you opt of the function entirely, your information is automatically shared. 2. You may be friends with people—your boss, your mom, your employees—with whom you don’t want to share your movie or music tastes. Unless you’re paying close attention, you may be just doing just that. 3. The principle of it. Facebook says that its users can control their own information. This doesn’t meet that standard. 4. It’s too difficult to opt out. You have to drill down into the privacy settings to opt out of the feature entirely. Not being able to opt out of individual sites via Facebook’s privacy settings is especially annoying.
Q: How can I opt out?
A: I thought you’d never ask. To opt out completely: Go to “Account” > “Privacy Settings”. Under “Applications and Websites” click “Edit your settings”. Find “Instant Personalization” and click “Edit Settings”. Uncheck the box that says “Enable instant personalization on partner websites.” Once you do this, your information will not be shared with any partner site. You can also keep the feature on and block individual partners.
To opt out sharing with Microsoft Docs: Go to the Docs Facebook application page and click “Block Application”. Then click “Block Docs” on the pop-up.
To opt out of sharing with Pandora: Go to the Pandora Facebook application page and click “Block Application”. Then click “Block Pandora” on the pop-up.
To opt out of sharing with Yelp: Go to the Yelp Facebook application page and click “Block Application”. Then click “Block Yelp” on the pop-up.
To opt out of sharing with RottenTomatoes: Go to RottenTomatoes.com. Find the “Welcome” box with your Facebook profile picture in the upper left corner. Click “Learn More”. At the bottom of the pop-up just above the close button, click “disconnect”.
To opt out of sharing with Scribd: Go to Scribd.com. Find the “Welcome to Scribd – Where the world comes to read, discover, and share…” box on the top of the page. Click “No thanks” in the bottom right corner of that box.
To opt out of sharing with Clicker: Go to Clicker. Find the “Welcome to Clicker” box on the top right of the page. Click the “Disable” link.
To opt out of sharing with TripAdvisor: Go to TripAdvisor. Find the box at the top right of the page that says “TripAdvisor is using Facebook to show you friends’ trips and reviews.” Click “Disable” in that box.
Q: Is there any reason NOT to opt of Instant Personalization?
A: Sure. If you’re a responsible Facebook users who knows and trusts all your Facebook friends, connecting with them on various social sites could be fun and useful. But as Facebook adds more features like Places and shares your information with more sites, you’re taking a risk of sharing information you may not want to share. It’s not a driving while distracted by your cell phone risk. But it is a risk.
Note: The EFF monitors Facebook’s privacy policies closely and was a resource for this post.
At Re:publica 2015, our Chief Research Officer Mikko Hypponen told the main stage crowd that the world's top scientists are now focused on the delivery of ads. "I think this is sad," he said. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbF0sVdOjRw?rel=0&start=762&end=&autoplay=0] To give the audience a sense of how much Twitter knows about its users, he showed them the remarkable targeting the microblogging service offers its advertisers. If you use the site, you may be served promoted tweets based on the following: 1. What breakfast cereal you eat. 2. The alcohol you drink. 3. Your income. 4. If you suffer from allergies. 5. If you're expecting a child. And that's just the beginning. You can be targeted based not only on your recent device purchases but things you may be in the market for like, say, a new house or a new car. You can see all the targeting offered by logging into your Twitter, going to the top right corner of the interface, clicking on your icon and selecting "Twitter Ads". Can Twitter learn all this just based on your tweets and which accounts follow? No, Mikko said. "They buy this information from real world shops, from credit card companies, and from frequent buyer clubs." Twitter then connects this information to you based on... your phone number. And you've agreed to have this happen to you because you read and memorized the nearly 7,000 words in its Terms and Conditions. Because everyone reads the terms and conditions. Full disclosure: We do occasionally promote tweets on Twitter to promote or digital freedom message and tools like Freedome that block ad trackers. It's an effective tool and we find the irony rich. Part of our mission is to make it clear that there's no such thing as "free" on the internet. If you aren't paying a price, you are the product. Aral Balkan compares social networks to a creepy uncle" that pays the bills by listening to as many of your conversations as they can then selling what they've heard to its actual customers. And with the world's top minds dedicated to monetizing your attention, we just think you should be as aware of advertisers as they are as of you. Most of the top URLs in the world are actually trackers that you never access directly. To get a sense of what advertisers learn every time you click check out our new Privacy Checker. Cheers, Jason
When an enigmatic and groundbreaking artist started making waves on Youtube, the public was simultaneously curious and in awe of this new type of sonic assault, detached from any specific genre, culture or style. nano draws on life experience accumulated in NYC and Japan to create a truly global aesthetic. nano’s music transcends the confines of nationalities and ethnicities, and reflects nano’s “no national borders” motto. Despite being the product of a united and connected world, nano chooses to be shrouded with a veil of mystery and privacy. Like we here at Freedome, nano believes that personal privacy is a choice and the only person to control it should be YOU YOURSELF. We created Freedome because we LOVE the digital and connected world we all live in. We love it so much, that we want to give everyone the tools to enjoy it to the max by not having to worry about the negative sides that come with it. It’s all about choice and keeping control. A lot of your personal information is shared without your approval, and we should be able to share everything you want without fear of your stuff being stolen or used against you. Just like nano, we think that sharing your passions and keeping your privacy are not mutually exclusive. To celebrate our mutual love for privacy and a connected world, nano has teamed up with Freedome with a special exclusive song, which can be found here. Join our global troop of digital freedom fighters. Your privacy, your choice.
You should know that Facebook can play with your emotions. If you're reading this you're probably aware that your Facebook feed doesn't simply serve you the latest posts from the friends and pages you follow. Given that most of us follow hundred -- if not thousands -- of people, places and brands, a real-time feed would dramatically change the Facebook experience. And it would likely greatly reduce engagement, which is the site's life force. But if you do know this, you may be in the minority. A new study from a team of researchers from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, California State University, Fresno and the University of Michigan found that most of a group of 40 Facebook users, 62.5 percent had no idea that their feed is filtered by the world's largest social network. And not knowing that actually seemed to have negative affects on users' psyches. “In the extreme case, it may be that whenever a software developer in Menlo Park adjusts a parameter, someone somewhere wrongly starts to believe themselves to be unloved,” the researchers wrote. The study used a tool to create an unfiltered feed that showed them what they'd been missing. While they weren't thrilled how Facebook decided which friends posts they'd see, "[m]ost came to think that the filtering and ranking software was actually doing a decent job," Fusion's Alex Madrigal writes. In 2014, Facebook partnered in an academic paper that revealed it had manipulated users feeds to adjust how many positive and negative posts they saw. It found that moods were contagious. Positive feeds led to positive posts and vice versa. Users agree to such manipulation in Facebook's terms and conditions -- which you clearly know by heart -- but the revelation still led to a huge backlash. In the recent study, participants found that being aware they were being fed stories by Facebook's algorithm "bolstered overall feelings of control on the site" and led to more active engagement. So if you didn't know a formula was guiding your interactions before you probably already feel better. But there's more you can do if you want to make sure Facebook is showing you the things you actually want to see. 1. Be proactive. Go directly to the pages of the people, companies and artists you want to see more of then engage. Like posts or comments. Comment yourself. Share posts. Facebook's motivation is to keep you on the site as long as humanly possible--and it's very good at it. If it's not showing something you'd enjoy seeing, it probably would like to. So let it know. 2. Choose "Most Recent" posts. In the left column of your home page, click on the arrow next to "News Feed". If you select "Most Recent", your experience will likely be less filtered. Though you still should not to expect to see every post that ends up on the site. 3. Go to News Feed Preferences. Click on the down arrow that's on every Facebook page and select News Feed Preferences. The goal here is to unfollow anything you're sick of seeing so you get more of what you do want. Or re-follow people or things you've missed. 4. Tell your feed what you like. Facebook wants you to take an active role in adjusting your algorithm. That's why every post in your feed has a dim down arrow that you can select. If something really bugs you, tell Facebook you don't want to see and Unfollow the person or page. If you really love it, you can "Turn on notifications" which guarantees that every future post ends up in your notifications -- that little globe on the top navigation. Your notifications can act as a secondary newsfeed to make sure you don't miss posts from your favorites. 5. Switch to Twitter and Tweetdeck. If you want complete control over your newsfeed, you're never going to get it on Facebook. Even Twitter is moving away from this method of feeding content for a pretty simple reason, it needs more engagement. Given that Facebook and Twitter employee dozens if not hundred of programmers and experts paid to make their sites captivate you, they figure they're better at it than you. If you want to prove them wrong, Twitter's Tweetdeck app, which works in your browser, still offers unmediated newsfeeds so you can feed your own brain. Twitter isn't quite as personal or ubiquitous as Facebook -- but it is the next best thing. Try it out and see if you feel more loved. Cheers, Jason [Photo by Geraint Rowland | Flickr]