Facebook: Apps, Ads, & Adventures in Privacy

Wed, May. 4 2011

Part 2 (of 2)

Jim Bail continues his mission to set up Artgig Facebook business pages and finds it all a little revealing...


Who doesn't want a more social experience? That's what FB is all about isn't it? So does this mean that with the default share settings I don't have to do a thing and that shady Estonian warez site that my 13 year old cousin likes to download pirated games from has access to a good chunk of this info? At least they won't know that I'm a Wiccan who is interested in lemur farming. Thank Goddess for that.

Speaking of lemurs...look at what that wholesome PBS Nature app can access after you blithely click “Allow” to view their app – which of course is what 99% of us have become conditioned to do.


I love this one. In the future, my friends may see ads with my picture in them. Can't wait for my mother-in-law to see my smiling face in that Valtrex ad a year from now. At least my secret's safe for now.

It depends on what the definition of “is” is:

From Facebook's developer blog: “Facebook has never sold and will never sell user information."

I found it a little interesting that a couple of days after I set up our Facebook pages I started seeing ads for fishing gear appear when I viewed our pages. I had in fact looked at some fishing gear during that time, but not on any FB pages.

I guess serving up targeted ads that companies pay for based on your surfing habits along with who knows what other information from your actual profile (and probably your friends' too) doesn't qualify as selling user information since the ad buyers technically don't know who you are.

Facebook isn't alone in doing this little tap dance around your privacy, plenty of other sites do it as well, but to me it's kind of like saying “we won't divulge your home address to anyone” and then telling the interested party that you “...live in a raised ranch at an undisclosed location between 444 and 448 Main St. and we'll be happy to erect a blazing neon sign with your exciting marketing message directly across the street from said house (who's owner, by the way, is interested in refinancing, according to our data) for a small fee”.

So what was the end result of my little Facebook adventure? I don't think I really discovered anything earth shattering. It was more about seeing first hand how difficult if not impossible it is to manage who sees your profile information. Of course choosing not to share any information at all defeats the purpose of being on Facebook in the first place, but ours was an unusual case.

What was surprising was how many hoops I had to jump through to ostensibly lock things down. I'm still not confident that I was completely successful, but for our purposes it was good enough.

Having gone through this exercise, I can't help feeling, as others have pointed out, that Facebook's user interface appears intentionally convoluted and granular to the point of being burdensome when it comes to matters of controlling who sees your data. Settings are a chore to change, if not outright buried. I found myself mumbling “those sneaky bastards...” more than once.

I guess in the end it's a Faustian bargain. If you really must know what your high school chemistry lab partner had for dinner on day three of her Carnival Cruise to the Bahamas, then be prepared for the world to know the truth – that you're not being ironic when you say you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.

This is Jim Bail, signing off.