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News  17, May 2012

Facebook, timeline and apps: A love-hate relationship

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Photo: Mashable

From getting updated with the latest news, watching viral videos, to getting connected with online friends through popular social networks, Joanna Yeo talks about her personal experience with one of the world’s most famous social networking site.

Being a fairly  heavy consumer of online content, I have to admit that I wouldn’t have been as well connected to the world if not for the internet. And if you are like me, you might have probably noticed the recent surge of internet companies adopting the use of Facebook Apps and Facebook Timeline Apps.

Facebook Open Graph

I was at F8 Singapore Developer Conference last October, 2011 when Facebook introduced the Facebook Open Graph to the entrepreneur and developer community here in Singapore.  The Facebook Open Graph was a move to increase engagement between third party web sites, pages and in particular, apps (Facebook apps and Timeline Apps) to the already well established community on the most popular social network. It was fascinating to see how companies can leverage on this to increase user activity on their sites and third-party apps with a range of verbs beyond ‘Like’, ‘Share’ and comment through the integration with Facebook. Since the announcement of the new Facebook Open Graph, many companies have created Facebook Apps that can be added to user’s timeline. This means that every activity of that the user does on the app or the company’s site will be updated in real-time on the app activity feed on the user’s Facebook timeline, news feed and ticker.

Facebook apps and Timeline

It was all good in the beginning when early adopters such as news sites  (Yahoo news, Huffington Post, the Guardian and Washington Post Social Reader) created third-party apps. People could see what their friends were reading and if interesting enough, they will be prompted to click and read the article.

Initially, I found the feature very useful in providing latest news updates through the newsfeed updates of what my friends have read. But, personal experiences proved to be short of enjoyable. News app vendors would update my passive activities on my timeline, newsfeed and ticker. I use ‘passive’ here as reading an article isn’t so much of an active activity as compared to clicking on a ‘Like’ button or commenting on a post.  But as more and more companies jump onto the Facebook App bandwagon, the Facebook integration move appears to have to backfired.

Privacy of Internet Activity Compromised

It is in the recent months that the effects of Facebook Open Graph is finally manifesting. In addition to news apps, other third-party websites like Spotify, Social cam, Dailymotion and even Quora have jumped onto the Facebook app bandwagon. I am pretty sure more companies will be inclined to creating app versions of their sites with Facebook’s push of  the new App Center.

My Facebook experience has been very enjoyable thus far. But, this experience has recently been compromised by the invasion of privacy brought about by Facebook apps. Timeline apps, to be more specific. Here’s why:

1. Ridiculous information retrieval required

The app vendor, be it  for Facebook app, game app or timeline app, can set the information access required and types of activities that the can be posted on the user’s behalf. Before agreeing to use an app, these information are available to the user for a permission to access.

Game apps are good examples of Facebook apps that intrude into user’s privacy in terms of: 1. Information access and 2. manipulating user’s Facebook account. Take The Sims Social for example, the following is what the app requires:

“This app may post on your behalf, including your high scores, achievements your earned and more.”

I am sure that all Facebook users are too familiar with their friend’s game app posts appearing on their news feed. Some hardcore Facebook gamers even have their walls flooded with game app posts. Personally, I view my Facebook profile as a mini online representation of myself. Thus, I would only want wall posts that I would like myself to be associated on my timeline. More importantly, such posts are often viewed as spammy. Thus, I recommend the following tip for readers who are facing the same problem as me:

Opt for ‘Only Me’ when Facebook app gives the option of letting you choose who can see posts that the app makes for you.

2. Passive activity outside of Facebook are updated on Timeline

Before the introduction of the latest Facebook Open Graph, only active activity such as a ‘Like’, Share or a comment on third-party sites outside of Facebook will be reflected on the newsfeed and wall. But now, passive activities such as watching a video on Dailymotion or reading an article on the The Independent are also being updated onto my timeline activity in real-time.

App vendors should understand the difference between consuming and contributing to an internet content. When one views, listens or reads an internet content, the person is not doing it for anyone’s benefit. However, when a user performs an active action, say ‘Like’ or comment, he is giving the content contributor affirmation and is completely aware that the activity performed is linked to Facebook and thus, will be reflected on the newsfeed and timeline.


Lately, I have also tried avoiding being tracked of what I read on the Facebook news app by googling the title of the article in the internet. This method has worked pretty well until recently – See the next point.

3. Websites that auto-login visitors with Facebook

Dailymotion, Yelp and The Independent. These are just some of the many sites that auto-logs users in with Facebook connect.

Auto-login to The Independent with Facebook

Once logged into Facebook, user activity on the site would be documented onto timeline and newsfeed (this is based on the type of timeline verbs that the app vendor has incorporated) without the user’s prior consent.

These underhand methods of not informing users about their integration with Facebook really creeps me out. It’s like having our every action watched by the web.  (maybe I’m exaggerating a little here). But, more often than not, there is an increasing self-awareness of what I am doing online and whether I am logged into to the third-party website with Facebook.

Looks like opting for manual sign up on a site instead of logging into Facebook will not be much of a solution to avoid having online privacy compromised.

Privacy issues re-looked

I am guessing these third party apps are getting the hint that their users do not welcome the idea of having their internet activity being tracked and publicized. For instance, Yelp makes it transparent to users that they are logged in through Facebook Connect. Yelp also teaches users how to opt-out of Facebook Connect and instant personalization.

So, here’s the deal. I have developed a love-hate relationship. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I hate Facebook. Facebook has served me well in connecting and reconnecting me to the people I have come in contact with over the years as well as keeping me updated with current affairs. App vendors, however, should be more transparent about their Facebook integration and also choice of timeline verbs to avoid having people undergo that off-putting experience i went through.

Joanna Yeo

Joanna Yeo

Joanna comes from a unique background mix of Life Sciences and Technopreneurship at NUS. Having gone through more than half a year of internship with a local startup under NUS Overseas College's innovative Local Enterprise Achiever Development (iLEAD) programme, she developed a keen interest in the tech scene. Joanna is also running N-House, an entrepreneurial residence at NUS. The geek girl at heart loves her dog, travelling and learning new things everyday!

  • http://www.ringcentral.com/phone-service/index.html Jayca James

    So what is really the difference between Facebook App and
    Facebook Timeline App.

  • Anonymous

    You should get the fb purity browser extension it fixes news article links so they go straight to the article instead of via an application . It also provides extra protection against apps by providing easier methods for blocking applications

    You can Get it here http://fbpurity.com

  • http://twitter.com/joannayeoml Joanna Yeo

    Hey @steeev:disqus  , thanks for the heads up! I’ll go take a look at it.
    Hey @jaycajjjames:disqus , the main difference is that timeline apps can be added directly to your Facebook timeline. I.e., When added, a separate timeline app box (right hand side of timeline) containing all information of your activity on the app will be updated on your timeline. Activities done on that app will then be updated on your timeline.

  • http://www.FetchFans.com Carmen Benitez

    I think you point to a fundamental position on connection via the internet in your first paragraph, but it needs to be clarified just a hair… Yes, you are correct that had it not been for the internet you would not be as connected. But the internet is not what actually connects in likely the way you and I and the rest of the world is now realizing. When we look at the history of the internet, the idea of being connected was driven by first by “you” to then drive “search and discovery”. In actuality, that’s not really being connected. It’s like a digital dewey decimal library system, where we go to the index and we search for the book / magazine / article / photo / etc. 
    But since the adoption and evolution of the open graph, we have actually realized true connection from the internet, where behaviors triggered by others connect back to you and instead of you thinking about them, they directly get fed to you. 
    Your next points are solid and personal. Some people prefer open connections with all passive points on public display that they don’t mind displaying, whereas others seek shelter and look to the earlier methods of internet use (you + search) but with the benefits of still being fed points made their direct/indirect contacts.
    I personally tend to lean to the latter as likely is the case for most. Will we find a common boundary between the adoption of the open graph and how it mixes into our daily digital connected stream? Yes, of course. I have full faith in the evolution of the digital to create the balances that are still being tested.

  • Pingback: Facebook vs. the Wireless Industry – New York Times (blog) | Amazing News

  • http://twitter.com/joannayeoml Joanna Yeo

    Hey @CarmenBenitez:disqus  , that’s some good points you’ve made there.

    I do agree that with Open Graph, we’ve finally seen what connection (or rather, a two-way interaction) truly means.

    Unlike in the past when a user establishes a one-way interaction by ‘finding’ information online, there’s now a two-way connection between the internet and users whereby information is being sent both ways. The same goes for twitter and rss feeds (but different in the sense that we kind of ‘choose’ the information that we want to receive).

    As to whether a common boundary will be achieved, I do think this will happen in time to come. As mentioned in my last paragraph, I’ve noticed quite a few app vendors being more aware of the privacy intrusion issue that entails with the adoption of open graph. They are taking this into serious consideration by translating them into actions. For now, it is the option to turn off the of the ‘Facebook app social activity update’ feature.

    After all, it’s a game of survival of the fittest. The users decide what they like and also have the power to determine who stays and who leaves. Both sides will eventually come to a common agreement on the types of information exchanged with some compromise on user’s privacy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mit-ItRecruitment/100003909739094 Mit ItRecruitment

    I really hate Timeline. It takes the bandwidth too much because of the large images being used as banners. I can say it is a really lame development for Facebook. Couldn’t they think of anything else to improve that they have taken the fun and simple concept of Facebook away? Its fun and simple concept is the main reason that it is being used by many and I don’t believe Facebook will be holding up much longer.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your article
     

  • Guest

    I find facebook and other social sites as the number one reason relationships become sabatoged because it creats a feeling of romantic intrigue and taboo which creates jeolosy and supicion in relationships

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