Last spring, the world was up in arms over alleged tracking of users’ locations by iPads, iPhones and Smartphones powered by Google’s Android operating system. According to a story from ABC News, “…Just days after researchers demonstrated that some Apple iPhone and iPad owners have had their locations tracked by their devices, another security researcher revealed that Android phones, which use Google's mobile operating system, store users' geographic information in a very similar manner.”
Interestingly, though, Apple had revealed that information a year earlier in a letter drafted in response to a US congressional inquiry (from Congressmen Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas). In the letter, dated July 2010, Apple's general counsel Bruce Sewall said that to provide location-based services, Apple, its partners and licensees, may collect, use and share customers' precise location data, including GPS information, nearby cell towers and neighboring Wi-Fi networks. But he added that the information is collected anonymously and the devices give users controls for disabling the location features. In addition to giving Apple customers the ability to turn off all location features with one "on/off" toggle switch, Apple requires applications to get explicit customer when it asks for location information for the first time.
Not so with Facebook.
The new Facebook Timeline will also track things you’re doing. But there are two major differences between Timeline and the Apple & Google tracing:
- Facebook will publish all of your activities to your “friends”;
- Facebook will track you even when you’re logged out!
“I’m listening to the band LCD Soundsystem on an Internet music service called Spotify. Because I've updated my Facebook page and because I've logged in to Spotify with my Facebook identity, every song I listen to is automatically shared to Facebook. Suddenly, my listening experience isn't private. It's public. All my Facebook friends are watching. And judging. Chances are this will affect people's behavior online. If you're a closet fan of Lady Gaga or Bjork or Enya (I'm all three), then you'll just have to stop listening to those potentially mockable artists -- either that, or all your Facebook friends will be chiming in with comments…”Sutter continues:
“And so it goes with all kinds of the new 'real-time' apps. Since I've logged in to Yahoo! News with Facebook, every time I read an article on that site, it goes to my Timeline. The same is true for Hulu and TV shows. And for the Internet game "Words with Friends." When I play a Scrabble-style word in that game, it will show up on Facebook, along with an image of the current playing board.”This is scary. This is, really, akin to stalking. But wait - Facebook executives, at the recent F8 conference introducing Timelines, also made it clear that users will be able to maintain granular privacy settings for each piece of content, essentially showing different Timelines to different groups of users. Well, yeah, and we know how religiously Facebook’s users mark each bit of data so that only their intended audience can see it! (That’s sarcasm, in case you missed it).
Once again, Facebook shows a decided lack of understanding of both its users and privacy in general. Unfortunately, most users will simply shrug and say “what’s the alternative?” (hint: It isn’t Google+).