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Facebook Does it Again with Instant Personalization – Yet Another Privacy Setting Made Active by Default

Facebook Does it Again

Last week, I addressed some of the Facebook security problems associated with the recent onslaught of rogue applications and email scams. This week, I’d like to discuss Facebook’s newest “privacy setting.” Ironically, those two words are an oxymoron when it comes to Facebook as it continues sharing more user information with third-party websites and requires us to opt out of these so-called enhanced social sharing features rather than opt in.

The latest feature added to Facebook’s privacy settings is called Instant Personalization. It actually launched quietly in April of 2010, but Facebook began rolling it out the masses last week.

So, what is Instant Personalization?

With Instant Personalization, any general information about you and your friends that Facebook has made public by default (names, gender, profile photos, and your “likes,” for example) as well as any information that is set to share with “Everyone” will be shared with a handful of non-Facebook websites to “give you a richer, more connected experience as you browse the web.” Facebook would like you to believe that you will have a sad and lonely internet experience without Instant Personalization. Right.

At present, Instant Personalization’s “select set of partners” is limited to:

By accessing your Facebook data, these partners are able to personalize your experience when you visit their sites. For example, if you visit Rotten Tomatoes to check out movie reviews, you may find that some of your Facebook friends have already reviewed the movie as “rotten.” If you trust the opinions of these friends, it might save you the trouble of sitting through a bad movie. Of course, you can always just ask your friends via your wall or theirs for their opinion. Or pick up your phone and (Gasp!) actually call them.

Some people might actually like Instant Personalization. While I’m not one of them, the point I’m really trying to make is that privacy settings should be an opt-in choice, not opt-out.

So, how do you opt out of Instant Personalization?

To deactivate this feature in your Facebook account, go to:
Account > Privacy Settings > Apps and Websites > Instant Personalization
A pop-up video will appear that explains the “benefits” of Instant Personalization. Watch it or close it. Then, at the bottom of the Edit Instant Personalization page, simply untick the box labeled “Enable instant personalization on partner websites.” This will instantly turn off partner websites accessing your data.

You can also turn off the personalization experience on each of the partner sites.
Of course, even if you disable the feature, your friends can still share information about you depending on how you and your friends have set up your privacy settings. So, be sure to limit exactly what you share and with whom under Account > Privacy Settings.

Big Brother’s Watching You…

Personally, I find the whole concept of “personalization” a bit Orwellian. First, we got search engine personalization and now this. I don’t like Facebook sharing my data with “partners” to provide me with “richer” web browsing. Facebook’s new “Sponsored Stories” that turn users’ updates, “likes” and other activity into ads are even more egregious.

If sharing is really so attractive, why doesn’t Zuckerberg change his site so people can opt-in as opposed to opting out? It’s obvious that Facebook’s privacy decisions are being driven more by economics then the safety of its users.

Last month, Facebook announced that it was going to allow developers access to users’ contact information, including addresses and cell phone numbers. The firestorm that immediately erupted over privacy concerns prompted Facebook to put those plans on hold just three days after making the announcement. But you can be sure that the Facebook privacy debate is going to continue as Facebook looks for more ways to monetize social networking.

What do you think? Is Instant Personalization just another way for Facebook to sell your private data under the guise of offering you a personalized web browsing experience? Would you be willing to pay for a premium Facebook account if it gave you more control over your privacy settings, or, are you willing to put up with more advertising and less privacy to use Facebook for free? Share your comments below.