Late last week, a group of organizations co-signed a letter to the Federal Trade Commission outlining concerns that they have about some of Facebook’s recent practices and announcements. CCIA believes that the FTC’s work in enforcing the unfair and deceptive practices prohibitions in Section 5 of the FTC Act is essential to protecting privacy online. However, the complaints articulated by the letter about Facebook’s new “Frictionless Sharing” program are off base and we’re confident that if the FTC explores them, it will come to the same conclusion.
Frictionless Sharing is a Facebook feature introduced at the recent F8 developers’ conference that allows websites other than Facebook to insert items into a Facebook user’s news feed. For example, a newspaper could insert an item into a reader’s feed announcing the article that the user just read, or a music application could insert items about the songs a user is listening to. It gives people the opportunity to share with their friends what they’re experiencing on a day to day basis, and gives all users the opportunity to find new things to read, listen to, or watch, based on the fact that a friend likes it.
Of course, this sharing comes with potential privacy impacts. An unwitting user might not know that the sharing was going to happen, and end up having something posted to their profile that they wouldn’t want the whole world to know. When there is the possibility of sharing a lot of information that could be personal, giving the user control over the process is the best approach for protecting privacy.
Fortunately, Facebook understands this fact. Frictionless Sharing is an option that requires the user to opt-in to the system on every website that wants to share with the user’s Facebook stream. Requiring this affirmative step is precisely the kind of action that privacy advocates have argued for in many other cases. In addition, even if a user decides to use Frictionless Sharing, Facebook gives them even finer controls over who the updates are shared with, both before and after they update.
We find this kind of attention to detail commendable in the privacy world. Facebook should be applauded for the way in which they have rolled out this program, and the FTC should keep its focus on the far more egregious privacy violations that it has a strong tradition of addressing.