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Is the new Facebook 'always watching' you?
The bloggerati loved some parts of the new Facebook redesign. But after a few days of sober reflection, they're asking tough, new questions
 
The excitement over Mark Zuckerberg's recent Facebook announcement is dying down as users scrutinize the redesign's effect on privacy.
The excitement over Mark Zuckerberg's recent Facebook announcement is dying down as users scrutinize the redesign's effect on privacy.
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"Facebook has finally done it," says Ben Parr in Mashable. While some of the new features rolled out at the social-network giant's f8 conference last week got rave reviews, Facebook is now "just a few updates away now from euthanizing the concept of privacy, already ailing on its network." The changes are "creeping out" enough people that there has been at least a trickle of people loudly moving over to Google's nascent competitor, Google+, says Don Reisinger in CNET News. Has Facebook finally gone too far in its quest to make you share?

How do the new changes affect privacy?
The most noticeable change is with the new generation of apps, which share everything you read, listen to, watch, or do in Facebook, says John D. Sutter in CNN. That means "Facebook is always watching" over your shoulder, but also that all your "Facebook friends are watching. And judging." Are you a closet Enya fan? Not for long. More troubling, says Dylan Tweney in VentureBeat, are allegations from self-described hacker Nik Cubrilovic that Facebook tracks what you're doing online through your web browser's cookies, even when you're not logged in to your Facebook account.

So Facebook really is "always watching" you?
The company, through an engineer named Arturo Bejar, says no, not exactly. Bejar acknowledges that Facebook does record your visits to sites that have Facebook "Like" buttons, but only for 90 days and never to use for advertising purposes. Instead, he says, Facebook uses the information to protect your information from "spammers and phishers," as well as anyone else trying to break into your account. That's reassuring, says Emil Protalinski in ZDNet. But "I'm still hoping to get an official statement from Facebook."

Why might Facebook keep pushing the privacy envelope?
"The site's goal — as postulated in 'Zuckerberg's Law' — always has been to get people to share more and more information about themselves," says CNN's Sutter. Facebook hasn't exactly been hiding that. And the benefits to the company are obvious: More ad dollars, since advertisers pay more to target people who might actually act on their promotions. "The benefits for Facebook users are less clear."

How is this more sinister than just over-sharing?
The real issue, says the Los Angeles Times in an editorial, is Facebook's "troubling track record of unilaterally deciding to put consumers' personal data to new and unexpected uses." With millions of users automatically sharing tons of new data about their daily living, "who knows what uses the company might find for that information?" We may console ourselves with the "illusion" that we can control whom we share every aspect of our lives with, says Mashable's Parr, but mark my words: This switch to passive sharing is a "sword that's just been run through privacy's heart." Thanks, Facebook.

What can you do to minimize Facebook's prying eyes?
The apps won't share what you do without permission, says Justin Brookman in The Daily Beast, but you only have to give that permission once, when you first sign up. "Facebook will have to make sure its users fully understand the implications of these new apps before roll-out, or risk another round of privacy backlash." If you're concerned about the offline peeping, you can delete all Facebook-related cookies in your browser after logging out, says VentureBeat's Tweney.

Is the death of privacy really so bad?
As long as people are aware of what they're sharing, "there's potentially real value" in Facebook's new features, says Brookman in The Daily Beast. After all, users are presumably sharing their life with people they like, and they "can discover ways to share their music-listening and cooking habits with friends in a perhaps lighter-touch way." That's not sharing, says Farhad Manjoo in Slate. It's a recipe for "killing taste." We choose to share things because we think our friends will appreciate them. But at least equally important are the much greater number of things we choose not to share, for the very important reason that "most of what you do isn't worth mentioning." That, and not any "lack of 'privacy'," is the reason I hate the new Facebook.

Sources: Mashable (2), CNN, LA Times, ZDNet, VentureBeat, CNET News, Slate, Daily Beast

 

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