Facebook announced Wednesday that it's beginning to institute a new interface that will pop up when users connect their Facebook accounts to third-party services--one which the social-networking company says will bring more "transparency" (yes, that word again) to how much information its nearly 500 million users are sharing across the Web.
Consequently, when a third-party application that connects to Facebook asks a user for permission to do so, it has to stipulate exactly what parts of a user profile it'll be accessing: photos, friend list data, basic public information, and so forth. This is something that the company initially announced last year following criticism on behalf of privacy officials in Canada and expanded upon at its F8 developer conference this spring in San Francisco.
"In order for these applications and websites to provide social and customized experiences, they need to know a little bit about you," a post on the Facebook blog by chief technology officer Bret Taylor read. "We understand, however, that it's important you also have control over what you're sharing. With this new authorization process, when you log into an application with your Facebook account, the application will only be able to access the public parts of your profile by default. To access the private parts of your profile, the application has to explicitly ask for your permission."
The flip side to this is that also at F8, Facebook made more of a user's profile public by default, igniting harsh words from the press and privacy advocates who painted the social network as repeatedly toying with users' privacy settings so that they had ultimately morphed into something far different from what they agreed to in the first place.
In tandem, Facebook also announced that third-party services are no longer subject to a policy in which third parties connecting to its servers could only store user data for 24 hours, something which the social network said will speed up and streamline applications as well as make the whole experience easier for users and developers alike. But privacy advocates took issue with this, too.
Facebook is also being watched by lawmakers around the world, like a coalition of senators who raised concerns about how it shares information with third-party companies. Since then, Facebook has made some modifications that it says will make privacy controls easier for users to understand.
There are, according to Facebook, 550,000 applications on its developer platform that are currently active, and over a million sites that have integrated Facebook profile data through its application program interface (the universal-login product formerly known as Facebook Connect). That's big. But if recent rumors are to be believed, Facebook will want to keep confidence in its platform absolutely shipshape, as Google is believed to be working on yet another social-networking experiment that could potentially replicate many of the connections and conveniences that Facebook's platform enabled.
True, Google's social-networking projects have been lukewarm for years. It's always possible, though, that one of these days it'll finally nail it and Facebook will have to respond.