Yesterday I wrote that Twitter should be scared of Facebook. Today it's worse. I, as a mere user of Facebook, am seriously scared of them.
Every time they make a change, people get angry. I've never myself been angry because I have always assumed everything I post to Facebook is public. That the act of putting something there, a link, picture, mini-essay, is itself a public act.
This time, however, they're doing something that I think is really scary, and virus-like. The kind of behavior deserves a bad name, like phishing, or spam, or cyber-stalking.
What clued me in was an article on ReadWriteWeb that says that just reading an article on their site may create an announcement on Facebook. Something like: "Bull Mancuso just read a tutorial explaining how to kill a member of another crime family." Bull didn't comment. He didn't press a Like button. He just visited a web page. And an announcement was made on his behalf to everyone who follows him on Facebook. Not just his friends, because now they have subscribers, who can be total strangers.
Now, I'm not technically naive. I understood before that the Like buttons were extensions of Facebook. They were surely keeping track of all the places I went. And if I went to places that were illegal, they would be reported to government agencies. Bull Mancuso in the example above has more serious things to worry about than his mother finding out that he's a hitman for the mob. (Both are fictitious characters, and in my little story his mom already knows he's a hitman.)
There could easily be lawsuits, divorces, maybe even arrests based on what's made public by Facebook.
People joke that privacy is over, but I don't think they imagined that the disclosures would be so proactive. They are seeking out information to report about you. That's different from showing people a picture that you posted yourself. If this were the government we'd be talking about the Fourth Amendment.
Also, I noted that I had somehow given access to my Facebook account to ReadWriteWeb. That's puzzling because I have no memory of having done that. And when I went to see what other organizations I had given access to my graph, there were lots of surprises. I think there's a good chance that by visiting a site you are now giving them access to lots more info about you. I could be mistaken about this.
And, until Facebook owns the browser we use, there is a simple way to opt-out, and I've done it myself. Log out of Facebook. And if Facebook had a shred of honor they would make their cookie expire, right now, for everyone, and require a re-log-in, and a preference choice to stay permanently logged-in. With a warning about the new snooping they're doing. Probably a warning not written by them, but by Berkman, the EFF or the FTC. (Yes, dear Republicans, I trust a bureaucrat more than I trust a tech exec in Silicon Valley.)
One more thing. Facebook doesn't have a web browser, yet, but Google does. It may not be possible to opt-out of Google's identity system and all the information gathering it does, if you're a Chrome user.
PS: There's a Hacker News thread on this piece. It's safe to click on that link (as far as I know).
Update: Nik Cubrilovic says that logging out of Facebook is not enough.