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.