The Truly Scary Part About Facebook Open Graph

The Truly Scary Part About Facebook Open Graph

There is something interesting about Facebook’s announcement of the (not really open) Open Graph that has received a lot of press; the fact that if Open Graph takes off Facebook will effectively own our identity.  If you’re not familiar with Facebook’s Open Graph you may want to check out this Mashable post, it does a good job of explaining it.  Essentially, Facebook will own information about the songs we like on Pandora, the movies we watch on Netflix, etc…  Facebook can then share that information with sites like CNN, so that CNN can serve us advertisements that we want to see.  Facebook’s ownership of this information leads me to my next point.

There is something interesting about Facebook’s announcement of the (not really open) Open Graph that has received less press; the fact that Facebook is a private company.  No one knows for sure how much of the company Zuckerberg and others own, but it wouldn’t likely be difficult for him to put together 51% of the company.  What that means is that a private individual (or small group of individuals) own virtually everyone’s online identities.  The difference between a private company and a public company owning these identities, is that a private one is under no legal obligation to try to make a profit with them.  This makes a private company’s actions very difficult to predict/understand.   I’m not saying Zuckerberg isn’t a good guy, I’m saying its too much responsibility for one 25 year old.

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  • Nathan

    I think Facebook is going to be dominant, but this is sort of inevitable and easy to forecast and at least you have the option of using some form of privacy controls. When it comes to privacy though I think stuff you can't opt out of like might be a bigger threat to privacy.

  • FrankDenbow

    you would rather have a company with a bigger profit motive in control of your data?

    • The profit motive plays an interesting role here. On the one hand being free of the public obligation to shareholders, frees up Zuckerberg and co to be MORE responsible then a public company. On the other hand, it frees them up to be less responsible or perhaps more sinister with them.

      • Joe Larabell

        I don't understand the part about public companies being less free to show some responsibility. There are plenty of public companies that reuse to sell their data simply to increase the bottom line. There's nothing about being public that forced companies to use their data irresponsibly and there's no more motive for a private company to protect your data. I'd pin it more to size — a larger company has more to lose over a breach-of-privacy flap in the media so I'd rather the data be held by someone like… say… Oracle or even Microsoft than Facebook.

        Another thing to realize — and this was true even before Open Graph — a smaller private company is more at risk to economic hard times which could open them up to potential acquisition by someone whose only goal is to secure the data they've amassed. At least with a public company, you'd have some advance notice (though little control over the situation, other than to try to delete your data).

  • MikeC

    When I swipe my Stop and Shop supermarket card before I ring up my groceries, the central store computer spits out coupons that relate to my buying habits. This is essentially the same thing and nobody is raising a stink. People need to chill out, and more to the point, people need to spend less time on Facebook. It's like AOL all over again. Go outside, take a walk or a bike ride – talk to people face to face. Oddly, Facebook now has little to do with faces and nothing to do with books.

    • This is perhaps the greatest comment ever made to the blog of Burgher Jon. I could not agree with the sentiment more. I log in to facebook maybe twice a week and have 100 or so friends. The problem is, fewer and fewer people are like me.

    • ahiredgeek

      it never had anything to do with books and very little to do with faces. dont be such a tool. and having any company track your habits in order to predict what you want to buy should at least be insulting.

      • MarsianMan

        Really? You mean like nearly every grocery store I have been to? Granted they have the advantage of being optional. You can certainly avoid the discounts by not being in their tracking program.

        I disagree with the word insulting.

        • ahiredgeek

          i must not visit nearly all the stores you frequent. i am not part of any such programs. i go into the store, buy my things with cash and split. i had a Family Dollar ask me for my phone number the other day and i about shit myself. i refused and my transaction went on as normal. i would personally be offended, because its none of their business how much coke i drink. people have just become complacent with shopping programs that theyve been offered. but not this guy. if i have to pay more to stay off the radar, then so be it.

          • Souris

            No discount cards at your grocery store?

    • Bike-Medic

      Good Call. Facebook is the new AOL. I actually felt that about 18 months ago which is when I decided to delete my account (and haven't looked back).

      I think a bigger concern than what Zuckerberg is going to do with it is what happens when that data is (inevitably) leaked or stolen?

      • PJ

        But… but.. What do you do about the people you haven't had a thought or care about in 20-30 years adding you as friends and then learning who else they've added as friends and how many pigs they have in that farm game??

        Thank goodness for the “Hide” option. I've narrowed it down to a few close friends and family. I'm always looking for more ways to tighten it up even more. I had one family member that was using it like a damn Tweeter account.

        Sorry Nephew, you're on hide.. and your lovely wife that needs to post about everything she's doing for the baby on the way as well. I really don't give a crap about the crib she bought from Ikea.. They actually post back and forth to each other on facebook.. FFS, turn the computer off, point your chairs towards each other and talk!!

        Yeah, my finger is hovering close to the “delete account” key as well.

    • tehninjo0

      Mike, the problem is not one store (chain) tracking your data and printing out relevant coupons at its points of sale, the problem is one company aggregating a very comprehensive and sophisticated profile of you and your friends and reusing (and possibly reselling) it across and array of POS that you no longer have insight into or control over.

      Google has been quoted as saying that 'if you don't want people to know about it, then you probably shouldn't be doing it' but that argument is half-baked. Take this hypothetical for illustration: An individual has been diagnosed with with a medical disability with the potential to range from very mildly to highly debilitating, that is likely to result in high medical expenses and time missed at work. They then go to webMD to research the disease and bookmark relevant pages through their webMD account. Presuming webMD is part of Open Graph this information is shared with Facebook. A potential employer may now solicit a third party background-check and the health information may be procured from facebook by said third party.. This scenario can be reconfigured in a variety of ways so that the 'oh well I would never do this and that' argument does not hold. Sooner or later, we are all likely to save something somewhere that should not be considered 'wrong' for which a reasonable amount of privacy should be expected nonetheless. Protocols like Open Graph greatly undermine such expectations.

      Moreover, social networks (especially facebook) are becoming increasingly cross-referenced internally (to a large extent facilitated by the user base itself through means such as 'tagging' of photos). Now picture a scenario in which a concerned friend of the patient bookmarks and then shares the link with information pertinent to the disease with the patient. All of a sudden, the patient no longer has control over their own 'record'.

      No, this is much more than just ye' good olde frequent shopper card.

      • I disagree with the WebMD part of this comment. Even if/when a system like facebooks open graph takes off, individual companies will still need to be responsible for what they communicate with it. If WebMD lacks the sensibility not to share information like the info you cited with the graph, then they will surely lose customers and become the companies of yesterday.

        • tehninjo0

          Not necessarily. Companies that share data extensively becoming companies of yesterday is predicated upon full disclosure by the companies and awareness on behalf of the consumer. There may be some people out there who actually read privacy disclaimers but unless there is a comprehensive shift in disclosure practices (regulatory or voluntarily) towards shortening and clarifying of TOS, Privacy Policies and the like for the average consumer there is no real impetus for extensive changes in consumer behavior. Regulatory change (in the U.S anyways) is unlikely and so is voluntary change by industries. The German proverb: “Was sie nicht weiss, macht sie nicht heiss” (what she does not know, she does not fret about) applies.

          Also, the webMD example is just one example based on services available today. Current developments such as Google's Chromium OS suggest that in the coming 5 years or so, we will begin to see some significant paradigm shifts with regard to our computing habits. “Fav's sharing” by webMD, and Amazon with Facebook will likely pale in comparison when compared to the (possibly inevitably) combination of dedicated cloud based data aggregation tools such as Chromium and data mining tools such as Open Graph.

          As much promise as a Semantic Web may hold, the privacy implications are immense.

          • Grandspear

            What are you so worried about hiding?

            I would be more worried about companies patenting genes than whether or not a company “feeds you ads”. Does not everyone use AdBlock+ anyway?

    • Xeno

      Actually, this is more like swiping your Stop and Shop card and getting coupons for your favorite fast-food place, gas station, a reminder that your favorite TV show's latest season is coming out on DVD next week, and a discounted upgrade offer for your calling plan, based on the number of minutes you tend to use.

  • NibbleNutz

    This story is nothing more that fear mongering. Look, if you believe your information is not safe then don't log on to Facebook–problem solved. You don't have to give them your information but if you do, don't act like they are stealing your info when you are really giving it to them.

    • This story is intended more to be a “threat assessment aid”. I mentioned in my last two posts that an internet that knows us better is a better internet. The question is, “is facebook the right company (assuming it has to be a company) to do that?” At THIS point that's a question that you have to answer individually (to your point). As time goes by it will be a question that we answer collectively. A post like this is simply intended to better inform the individuals that make up that collective, because we are ALL impacted by what the collective decides.

  • While I share – and probably exceed – your concern about this development, I note that you, like every other blogger, columnist, reporter to politician, fail to mention a critical point: Facebook et al are voluntary.

    People should, but don't, treat opening a Facebook account as they would (or should) any other business relationship. One would not, if one is sane, buy an insurance policy without reading the policy or rent an apartment without reading the lease. If a person joins Facebook without reading and understanding its TOS, then they have, albeit unwittingly, given away the farm, not had it stolen from them.

  • Jake

    then maybe you should take down the facebook connect and share on facebook buttons off your blog.

    This is how facebook makes money. without it, it folds, and this free service that 400 million people use will cease to exist.

    This is nothing new. Any retailer that has your address and credit card info is selling this same info.

    if you don't like it don't use facebook.

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  • Rich

    I'm surprised I don't see the Like button on this site already. You clearly support Facebook since I just used my credentials to authenticate for this comment. Google owns your emails, and serves ads relevant to the subject matter. Behavioral targeting has been around for literally years.This makes Pandora work smarter for me, and I don't really care if Facebook knows what music I like. I will probably appreciate not seeing Jason Bieber ads served to me. This is not sensitive information, as I am smart enough not to leave sensitive information with Facebook. You'll really freak out if you knew what Nielsen has on you….

    • As I've mentioned, I am in favor of an internet that “knows” you better (read the two posts previous to this one on Facebook and Google). I'm just concerned about how it comes about.

  • Very good point about facebook being a private company. First time had really thought of it like that

  • Guest

    While I sympathize with your concerns, you are actually incorrect in asserting that a private company has no legal obligation to try to make a profit. As long as the company is not entirely held by one individual, the directors of the company have a legal obligation to its stakeholders to make money. To do otherwise would violate the fiduciary duties that run between them.

    Also, Zuckerberg and the other directors of facebook would be subject to the same civil and criminal laws that govern all private behavior.

    I write this because the the tenor of your post seems to suggest that the situation might be improved if a government entity owned our online identities. This is definitely not the case. As I have said, a private corporation does have an obligation to make money and it is far better to have an independent check on facebook's activities (government) rather than have government control those identities, in addition to controlling the regulation of those entities.

  • dave7

    what if he was 30? would he then be still too young? how about 40? or 45?
    when does it become not too much responsibility?

    I find your ageist comments offensive

    • I'm only 353 days older then Zuck. It would perhaps be better to suggest that it is too much responsibility for any one man (or woman, so I don't switch from ageism to sexism) or any small collection of them.

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  • maulbeere

    Isn't this optional? – there is a new privacy setting called “Instant Personalization,” (currently with,, and according to fb's help page about it), and is automatically set to “Allow”, and I already switched mine off. [In FB, go to Account > Privacy Settings > Applications & Websites > Instant Personalization and UN-CHECK “Allow”]. I was assuming it's the same thing?

    Since I use Firefox's extension Adblock Plus, I don't see any of that advertising, so sharing my information like certainly has no value to me, and like you say, I'm not certain that it won't be detrimental in the long run. I don't care how old Zucker is, (that's a bit ageist isn't it?) He has a management team like all other CEOs to provide experience if he needs it. I'm just not an early adopter and I'd like to have been asked personally if I wanted to share my info like this instead of finding out by word of mouth 🙂

    • This is the same thing and you can turn it off that way.

      I'm not ageist, I'm only a 363 days older then zuck. I just think its a lot
      of responsibility for anyone. I wouldn't mind seeing an industry wide
      organization like shoulder it.

  • monastreet

    Facebook has allowed me to get back in touch with old friends (in some cases after 30 years) and make new ones but they are making changes more and more often that is making me think of leaving more and more!

  • i like this site and A group of developers could and should create a truly open graph so that any one … That's the part that this

  • Rob M

    Just checked Fb's policy on account deletions.. they retain your information and everything you've ever posted ( pics, etc ) . Every one of you “friends” links to you will remain, but be attributed to ” Anonymous FB user” . .

    So, once you're in their database, you're in. This will be a huge, juicy target for hacksters and criminals. It will be a giant data-ball, and by it's size, there is probably some safety, just too much data, you might slip through..

    But it looks like, once in, your in. If their database gets compromised, hopefully deleted account data would be ignored, but would it? There appears to be no way to undo the sharing … and the vulnerability of being interconnected.

    • Good stuff, thanks for looking in to that.

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  • markmayhew

    two words: log off

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  • I don’t like FB since my privacy is not private.

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