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Facebook and the New Age of Privacy


I attended my second conference in Northern California this afternoon – my second one in as many weeks (the first was selective parts of TechCrunch Disrupt). Fortunately for me, the conferences were live casted with the ability to interact via Twitter or in today’s case, Facebook. That seems fitting because today’s conference was the F8 Developers Conference for Facebook. I skipped the transcontinental flight, hotels and the constant chiding by my business associates saying ‘how tired I look.’

Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote address announced some upcoming changes on Facebook that are pretty dramatic. For those of you who think of Facebook as a social networking site, today’s keynote made it crystal clear that it is a platform…that’s why they host a developer’s conference. Here are some changes that you’ll soon notice along with my initial impressions:

· Timeline: timeline is an enhanced part of your profile that enables you to share information about yourself including your past. You control what is shared and by which applications. If you really have the ultimate control over what is shared, it might be useful but it seems like a lot of work to maintain it. My guess is that it’ll be auto-populated for most users which is a bit scary. Do you really want all of your past posts summarized for your high school friends to see?

· Spotify will offer an integrated app on the platform that will enable you to see the songs that your friends have listened to on the music service. This sounds kind of cool because it’s a way for people to discover music.

· Netflix and Hula: similar to Spotify, your friends will be able to see what movies you’ve watched…Whoa, stop right there. I don’t want my friends to see what movies that I watch. My movie selection would be limited to PBS so people think I’m smarter than I actually am…no way. BTW, Netflix will be live in 44 out of the 45 countries that they serve…all except the good ole US of A because Congress needs to change some outdated laws to enable it.

· Opengraph: so if you’re tired of seeing every little update in your stream including what people are eating, watching, etc., users will have the option to track these activities in a less obtrusive way. Instead of having to ‘like’ everything, you’ll be able to add other verbs and have that stuff be part of your Timeline but not clutter your stream. If someone read a book, they could just say they read it (as opposed to liked it) and it gets added to their timeline but it doesn’t clutter the main stream. This opens up a big-brother on steroids problem – i.e., not only does big brother know what you’ve been doing but everyone does…including advertisers who would want access to your every move.

I’m waiting to hear the privacy advocates cringe over the new ‘features.’ If the past is any indication though, users will find some utility in the new features and we’ll need to redefine privacy…or the lack thereof. The changes will be rolled out over time. Like most of the 100,000 people on the live cast, I signed off before the CTO went into mind numbing detail on the changes.

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Tim O’Loughlin

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