Facebook “Frictionless Sharing” Creating Friction With Privacy Advocates, Regulators

Mark Zuckerberg at F8, the Facebook developer conference held last week, exhorted people to “tell their life story” on Facebook via its new Timeline feature. Facebook also promoted new Open Graph apps integration and so-called “frictionless sharing.” But frictionless sharing is already creating a great deal of friction for Facebook in privacy circles and with regulators.

In practice frictionless sharing means that once you authorize an app, your subsequent actions through that app are shared on your news feed or the new Ticker. This includes songs you listen to, news stories you read, movies you watch and so on. Some people have likened it to the return of Facebook’s controversial Beacon tracking feature.

Spotify, one of the Open Graph launch partners, has reportedly had to modify settings and create a “private listening” mode in response to early complaints from Facebook users.

Now Facebook faces a range of complaints that the site is being too aggressive in monitoring, tracking and broadcasting user activities. Privacy advocates EPIC, the ACLU and others have requested the FTC to investigate “frictionless sharing.” Simultaneously, Congressional Representatives Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) are asking the FTC to look into Facebook’s use of cookies and tracking of users logged out of the site.

Facebook has said it “fixed” the cookies issue. But Facebook’s larger privacy problems with the US (and EU) are really just beginning. While the FTC has declined to indicate whether it will begin a formal investigation that process has started in Europe.

ZDNet reports that Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner will conduct a sweeping privacy inquiry into Facebook. While this is the broadest formal investigation of Facebook undertaken to date, there have been other government actions against Facebook in the past in Europe — most recently Germany declared the Like button illegal. Given Facebook’s size and influence it’s a relatively safe bet that Facebook will ultimately be compelled to offer more privacy discloses and more granular control over sharing.

Facebook is accustomed to this privacy-backlash routine: it introduces a new capability or feature, users complain and it modifies the feature. It’s a kind of “beg for forgiveness” approach. But this time may be different. There may be fines and broader changes required of the company by regulators in Europe, which is likely to come down much harder than US authorities.

The investigations are really just starting. It’s a bit premature to predict outcomes, except the latest round of complaints are more serious and going to cause a bigger headache for Facebook.

Related Topics: Channel: Social | Facebook | Legal: Privacy | Legal: Regulation

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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