The downside of social-media convenience

Where there’s a gain in convenience, there can be a loss in privacy, if we’re not mindful about how we use apps in social media. Here’s info on that.

By Anne Collier

Some people think of it as the dark side of using social media: potential oversharing. Things can indeed get dark, if we get so fixated on the darkness that we can’t see or learn about the alternatives. Better to get informed and act on that information! Mashable does a great job of showing how oversharing can happen using different kinds of applications in Facebook – e.g., what songs you’re listened to, recipes you’ve tried, FB profiles you’ve visited, where you go running (offline!), and what your plans are this coming weekend.

Facebook users can certainly opt out of apps altogether but, “should you choose not to share with apps at all, they are [all] taken away from you,” Mashable reports, and I’ll add that you can lose some Facebook functionality in the process (more on the latter in a minute). “If you want to use some [apps] but limit their functionality, you have to carefully customize your privacy settings in order to ensure your information is used appropriately. With the Open Graph, which can push any information to your Facebook page without explicit permission each time, [customizing your app settings] becomes more of an imperative,” Mashable adds. [About that “Open Graph”: FB introduced it a couple of years as a platform that “allows sites and apps to share information about users in order to tailor offers, features and services to each one’s interests and tastes,” Mashable explained back then.]

Gain something, lose something

As for losing functionality, here’s what Facebook says happens when you totally opt out of apps: “You may lose all existing Platform information and settings you’ve saved and friends won’t be able to interact with you using any apps or websites, and this cannot be recovered.” So customizing may be a better way to go for many Facebook users. “Does it have to be this hard?” some may ask. Well, yes, for now, if you choose to be a Facebook user and do that typical social-media practice of sharing interests with your contacts in FB.

If you don’t opt out of apps entirely, go here (when logged in) to see a full list of apps you’ve adopted on Facebook, then you can edit your privacy settings app by app. [It’s easy to forget because, authorizing an app is usually part of some interaction with some person or content, not usually a discrete action in its own right, so it’s good to check every now and then.]

Auto-sharing’ your info

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Facebook just started supporting 60 new auto-sharing apps, among them Ticketmaster, Foodily (for recipe-swapping foodies), and TripAdvisor. What that means is, when you use these apps, they automatically share info about that usage with your friends – on your timeline (the feature formerly known as “profile”) and their news feeds. For example, if you use Spotify the music app (an early auto-sharing partner of FB’s), the “news” that you listened to a song appears on your timeline and in news feeds. You don’t have to put that info into you status update window manually (whew!–such trouble that was!). But you can stop it from doing that any time by going to your app list and editing what Spotify can do. [Here’s Facebook’s blog post about the new auto-sharing apps.]

Related links

* More on app-related privacy and security at our parents’ guides to Facebook (2012 edition to be available late this week at and Google+ (now at
* In “How Much Should People Worry About the Loss of Online Privacy?” the Wall Street Journal recently hosted a discussion about online privacy among four people who’ve looked at it closely: danah boyd, senior researcher at Microsoft Research New England; Stewart Baker, who the Journals says describes in his book “Skating on Stilts” his battles with privacy advocates during his tenure at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; professor Jeff Jarvis at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, author of Public Parts; and Christopher Soghoian, fellow at the Open Society Institute and creator of “the first browser software – called TACO – that blocked online tracking.”
* “A new book & fresh look at online privacy” from educators John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas at the University of Southern California
* To go in-depth into “Kids, Privacy, Free Speech, and the Internet” as well as regulation’s role, see policy analyst Adam Thierer’s paper of that title.
* A thorough, well-reported update on Facebook privacy at USATODAY
* Coverage of recent Facebook privacy news here: “Facebook’s agreement with the FTC: What it means for users” and “Facebook passes Irish privacy commissioner’s test”
* My own definitions of anti- and pro-social media companies in “Anti-social media companies will be obsolete”


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