Facebook Encourages App Developers to Build In “Private Mode” to Mute Automatic Sharing

Facebook is asking third-party Open Graph app developers to voluntarily add a private mode to their apps if necessary. Its developer blog post outlines how Spotify and Yahoo! News are tackling Open Graph privacy issues by giving users other options. Without a private mode, some users who initially opted in to sharing their activity may choose not to use an app to listen to an embarrassing song or read a controversial article rather than have that news published.

By getting developers to implement their own private modes, Facebook won’t have to build more privacy controls on its side that might add too much friction to apps that don’t require it, such as those that only share benign content or rarely share at all. An option to retract previously shared activity will also reduce the backlash from users who feel like Facebook infringed on their privacy even though they authorized what a third-party app could share and with whom.

It seems that Facebook’s “frictionless sharing” may have been too frictionless for some. The new app authentication flow announced at f8 lets users permit apps to publish all their future activity without asking them again. While this relieves users from constantly filling out sharing prompts, it occasionally could reveal somewhat sensitive information or cause a chilling effect where users opt not to engage with an app at all rather than share.

Users could always restrict app content to only be shared with certain friends.  The could also visit their profile’s activity log to delete past activity, but only after it had already been shared and possibly seen by friends in the Ticker. Facebook may now look to move away from the term “frictionless sharing” to reduce criticism around privacy.

Following f8, Spotify grew quickly thanks to listening activity published to the Facebook home page Ticker. It also heard user complaints about not wanting news of their listening to guilty pleasures shared to Facebook. It began rolling out a software update that lets users switch into “Private Listening” from the desktop app’s menu. Until they switched back, no listening activity would be shared.

Yahoo! News has implemented a more powerful privacy system that lets users turn “social” on and off, similar to The Independent’s privacy controls we reviewed earlier this month. Users can view a list of their recently read articles and delete that activity from Facebook right from the Yahoo! website. An option to be reminded of one’s privacy settings can also be enabled.

Facebook is taking a Platform-focused approach to privacy. Rather than overlay a one-size-fits-all privacy widget that wouldn’t adapt to different apps, Facebook is asking developers to build what’s right for their audience. This might mean strong controls for apps dealing with sensitive content, or no additional controls for those with a low risk of offending people through sharing.

Facebook already has its own Open Graph privacy controls. What was needed was controls right on the apps themselves, and this blog post should guide developers in that direction. However, if apps don’t voluntarily implement privacy controls when needed and Open Graph app sharing continues to hurt Facebook’s image, it may have to implement a mandatory privacy control system.