Facebook rolled out universal “Like” button and “Open Graph” features yesterday, and is ambitiously partnering with sites all over the web to turn users’ personal interests and online activities into a newsfeed for the now-expanded Facebook ecosystem. While this behavior seems like déjà vu, recalling Facebook’s Beacon online tracking program which was launched 3 years ago and was forced to retreat due to the huge protests by its users, Facebook has grown since then from a start-up to the number one web traffic juggernaut on the web. Will this new launch result in another privacy backlash just like 3 years ago? Taking a look at what these new features have in common with Beacon, and what are some key differences from Beacon might give a hint to that question.
Both Like/Open Graph and Beacon adopt the opt-out setting, and the opt-out for Beacon was heavily criticized because it was not easy to access at that time. Overall, I personally do not like opt-out schemes, especially when it comes to sensitive issues like people’s privacy, Facebook should have learned from the recent privacy backslash towards Google’s Buzz and even their changes to privacy settings just a few months ago. Facebook might argue that people have to actually click the “like” button to personally “opt-in” to endorse it, but I still think Facebook could be much more discreet about handling users’ private information.
In Beacon, Facebook let advertisers place their ads alongside users’ purchasing activity online, calling it a “recommendation from a trusted friend”. With the “Open Graph” feature, Facebook lets partner websites pull users’ profile information and their friends’ “like” information, then these sites can personalize products and services on their site for the user according to what the user and his/her friends have previously “liked”, which is a different version of “recommendation from a trusted friend”. Besides that, the explicit number how many people in total “like” a webpage or product would also cast strong social proof effect to the user, even though these people are outside the user’s social circle, these “like”s still count as a word of mouth recommendation.
Now that the “Like” button itself and the data associated with can exist ubiquitously all over the web, this will further strengthen Facebook’s influence on the internet. A user’s identity and information are no longer confined to the closed Facebook ecosystem, but are now easily accessible across the web by numerous websites, and these sites no longer have to delete information they’ve gathered every 24 hours, a huge step forward from Facebook Connect. This means viral messages spreading through people’s newsfeeds in the Facebook ecosystem can be further amplified for greater organic publicity for companies.
Facebook’s new “Like” and “Open Graph” function are going to challenge many online services, from review sites like Yelp, to information-sharing sites like Twitter, and even search engines like Google, with their rich information system, at the same time, it will also open a vast array of opportunities for many third developers to develop new social platforms around it. If everything works out the way they would like, Facebook may completely rewrite the rules for social media.