New Facebook Privacy Policies Will Have A Significant Impact On Platform Applications

As a result of a new privacy agreement with Canada, Facebook has issued statements suggesting that there could be major platform changes ahead for developers. In a blog post this morning, Ethan Beard suggests that users may have to explicitly opt-in to granting profile information. This news comes as Facebook is under increasing scrutiny from privacy advocates including the California ACLU chapter which has released a new quiz application to inform users of what data applications have access to.

In a blog post on the Facebook developers blog today, Ethan Beard writes:

When users authorize an application, they will have the opportunity to opt out of giving certain pieces of information. There may be some fields that, at minimum, are necessary for the application to function. We will make it clear that the user must authorize the required fields in order to use the application. We also anticipate that users will need to opt-in to giving applications access to their friends’ data.

This would significantly impact the functionality of most Facebook applications which until now, have used friend data as a way to increase engagement among users. Part of the appeal of the Facebook platform was the ability to access friend data, but if these new policies go into effect, big changes could be ahead. A press release from Facebook today illustrates how big of a shift it really is:

Increasing the understanding and control a user has over the information accessed by third-party applications. Specifically, Facebook will introduce a new permissions model that will require applications to specify the categories of information they wish to access and obtain express consent from the user before any data is shared. In addition, the user will also have to specifically approve any access to their friends’ information, which would still be subject to the friend’s privacy and application settings.

It’s something that is somewhat necessary to avoid future criticism from privacy advocates. However this is a monumental shift from the sort of access that Facebook previously granted developers. Rather than granting applications access to all information by default, developers will have to explicitly ask for the data they are requiring. While I can envision a smooth transition into the new model, explicitly stating what information will be displayed could serve as a disincentive to install an application.

Transparency is key as the web becomes more open and Facebook is at the forefront of the issues. These new policies will help to define the terms under which “data portability” and digital identities function. While no technical aspects have been defined yet, expect big changes ahead for the platform.

One extremely important thing to note is that Facebook projects these new policies will take a long time to implement. According to this morning’s release, “The changes to how users share information with third-party applications will require significant time and resources, both for the updating and testing of the new Facebook API, and for third-party application developers to reprogram and test their applications. Facebook anticipates this entire process will take approximately 12 months.”

In short: this is a massive overhaul for the social platform which one had few rules and practically anything went.

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