For Every Action There’s A Reaction

Mosaic portrait of Facebook's co-founder, CEO and President, Mark Zuckerberg - by Charis Tsevis

When I heard news of the recently released Google Chrome extension Facebook Disconnect I immediately envisioned Newton’s Third Law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Why? Maybe because for every person out there who’s perfectly content (or complacent enough) to surf the Web via their browser’s default privacy settings, there’s someone else—usually a developer or Web savvy individual—who wants to modify the standard configuration under the hood to their personal preferences, if in fact no such settings currently exist.

If you really have to ask why this extension was created in the first place, you’re probably one of the few people left on the planet not actively engaged with Facebook or one of the other social networks permeating our digital landscape. If so, you’ll have perhaps only a casual appreciation for the potential privacy issues at stake surrounding Facebook Connect.
On the other hand, if you’re someone like me—a light to moderate Facebook user—someone quite active on the Web and interested in retaining at least a rudimentary level of digital privacy, you’ll certainly want to be cognizant of how and what Facebook collects with regard to your personal information and Web browsing data.

Developer’s description of the Facebook Disconnect extension for Chrome:

Facebook is notified whenever you visit one of the more than one million sites on the web that use Facebook Connect and has a history of leaking personally identifiable information to third parties. Turn off the flow of your data to them!
Facebook Disconnect blocks all traffic from third-party sites to Facebook servers, but still lets you access Facebook itself.

Really? When I read the above description I felt a little naive. Like many Facebook users, I’ve always considered Facebook Connect as nothing more than a convenience feature similar to my browser’s autofill form function or the popular Gravatar service I use when leaving comments on other blogs and sites. In fact, it’s quite common among Facebook users to be logged-in (to Facebook) and browsing other Web sites (in separate browser tabs of course), potentially opening the door for data miners. It never really occurred to me I could be unknowingly feeding third parties ‘personally identifiable information’. How dare they!
Still, playing devil’s advocate, if access to such rudimentary personal information (via browsing habits) meant I could be served-up ADs for products and services I actually consumed and were genuinely interested in, rather than flat-out ignored, would that be such a bad scenario?

Regardless of how you feel digital privacy, the creation of tools like Facebook Disconnect only reflect a growing awareness among the general public concerning personal privacy when connected to digital networks—social or otherwise. Next time you have access to free unsecured WiFi at your local coffee house or hangout, think twice about logging-in to your Facebook or Twitter account.

At the same time and over the past few years, in light of the rising popularity of IE alternative browsers—most notably Firefox, there’s a growing trend among the Web enlightened to remove unnecessary clutter from the Web browsing experience. Although, one person’s clutter is another person’s content.
Don’t like Google ADs? Block them. Annoyed by Flash banners? Turn them off. Having trouble reading the text on your favourite site? Change the typeface and make the body text bigger. And now, feeling nauseated by the proliferation of Web sites insisting you use Facebook Connect to say, leave a comment or sign in to your favorite API? No problem—just disconnect the unscrupulous data miners—ultimately it’s your prerogative.

When the official Facebook Dislike button finally materializes—and I imagine it will, rest assured I’ll be blogging about it. Until then use the Firefox Add-on.

[photo credit: Charis Tsevis via Flickr]