Dear Facebook & Google: We Are Not Your Pawns – Enough With The Auto Opt-In!

Over the past few months, both Facebook and Google had followed an alarming trend of opting people into things rather than letting them chose themselves. Fair to say, I’ve had enough of all that. I don’t think I’m alone.

Let’s recap:

Google’s Personalized Results: The “New Normal” That Deserves Extraordinary Attention covers how last December, Google made a sweeping change to personalize everyone’s search results without asking them first, without them having to be logged in, and spreading the news in a blog post quietly made on a Friday afternoon Pacific time.

Now Is It Facebook’s Microsoft Moment? covers how in December, Facebook asked people to “update” their privacy settings but really ended up making some formerly private information public. See also Facebook’s Privacy Upgrade Recommends I Be Less Private.

Google Buzz Rechecks Privacy Settings covers just some of the fallout from when Google, in its chase after Facebook, rolled out Google Buzz tied to Gmail accounts without enough thought or protection to keep some “private” contacts from being made public.

Facebook Instant Personalization over at Techmeme is a round-up of stories emerging from how people are concerned that Facebook’s new partnerships with some sites will pass along some of their personal information without asking them first. Instead, Facebook users are simply opted-in to the new program. Protect Your Privacy Opt Out of Facebook’s New Instant Personalization – Yes You Have to Opt Out is a very good illustration of the same alarming message I got on this yesterday.

Pick any of these events, and either company will tell you how the move was made in the best interest of users, how the scare stories out there aren’t as bad as they sound, and how users are in complete control.

Newsflash. When you have to explain things over and over again, answering each new “What if..?” or “I heard…” that comes up, you’re not reassuring anyone. You’re freaking them out more. And it’s a sure sign there’s something wrong with your product.

Your product should speak clearly for itself. I shouldn’t have to dive into complicated settings that give the fiction of privacy control but don’t, since they’re so hard to understand that they’re ignored. I shouldn’t need a flowchart to understand what friends of friends of friends can share with others. Things should be naturally clear and easy for me.

I’ll have more to say on some of these things in the future, but I wanted to jot the core issue down right now. Enough is enough. Get it together. Sharing isn’t bad. Sharing can be useful, as can personalization. But right now, I think a lot of people feel like we’re pawns in the game between Google and Facebook for web domination. Neither’s going to dominate the web. Neither needs to rush madly into things to get ahead. And both need to remember we’re not pawns, not even users but instead flesh-and-blood human beings that need to be treated better.


  1. says

    Totally agree. I also think the issue isn’t just with these services opting users in without their consent. Oftentimes the way around that is to prompt users to change their settings, while making the default option less restrictive than it was before. Almost everyone is just going to hit “OK” or “Next” so it achieves the same effect, and the company can say the user chose the new setting.

  2. Kyle Patterson says

    The simplest way to avoid Facebook’s shenanigans–besides not signing up or “deleting” your account–is to blank all your personal info.

    Your real friends already know that stuff, anyway, right?

  3. says

    I like your article, Danny & agree with virtually all of it.

    However, it’s more than a little ironic that right at the bottom of this post is a brand-new Facebook “like” button courtesy of their last round of social sharing & privacy changes. I understand that as a marketer you want to use all available tools to help promote your content…. but coming right after a post criticizing Facebook’s recent privacy changes it does undercut your argument somewhat.

  4. says

    This is exactly what I wrote about yesterday and I completely agree with you. Click my name to read my post – basically this was a topic I dealt with for nearly 10 years – every single contest and promo we ran the topic of opt-in/out would come up and we always went with forcing the customers to select that they wanted to be included.

    I also wonder about their trusted partners – and how far that will go.

    As I ended my post – I am disappointed in Facebook.

  5. Chad says

    Danny, I agree with Rachel. What’s up with the Facebook Like at the bottom of your article? It’s like an “I was just kidding, sorry” punctuating a very cogent blog post.

  6. says

    Rachel, Chad, yes, I recognize the irony. But I’m not to the point where I’m so upset with either company that I’m going to boycott the services they provide. Many people use Facebook to consume media. If I want the things I write to be seen by many, it’s a channel I can’t ignore. Share and Like buttons provide a way to help increase that visibility. Indeed, for an article about Facebook issues, the very best audience are people on Facebook already. Similarly, I don’t block Google from crawling and listing my content.

  7. says

    What a lot of people missed about Facebook (including, possible Kyle) was that your pages became public. Why would I want everyone and his dog to know the hundred (or whatever it was) pages that I joined up to so that just *my*friends* could see my interests, diseases, history, etc etc. So I spent a while unfanning most of those pages. Would-be identity thieves must be throwing their hats into the air over the latest FB shenanigans.

    PS Gotta love your spam statement.

  8. says

    Google’s personalized search results displaying as the default you have to manually undue is pretty tedious, many times a day to me – really makes me hope Bing picks up the pace a bit. Facebook, to me, is much more dangerous and risky to your personal than many people yet realize. The more info it gets fed about your behaviors, the ones who will really win are spammers, targeted BS marketers, and creepy people.
    Ew. You calling it the detritus resulting from the largely unecessary race between these behemoths is spot-on to me.

  9. Name says

    I am with you 100%. But may i request that you remove that like button and Facebook personalization from this site until Facebook gives us our privacy back?

  10. says

    There’s no Facebook personalization on this site. There are only about three sites that have that type of special personalization. I’m going to keep the Like and Share buttons, along with the Like/Fan box up for now, for reasons I’ve already explained. To my understanding, these have no impact on anyone at Facebook unless they deliberately choose to use any of them.

  11. says

    Opting out of Instant Personalization isn’t enough, you also have to block some applications.

    Please keep in mind that if you opt out, your friends may still share public Facebook information about you to personalize their experience on these partner sites unless you block the application.

    FAQ entry

  12. fjpoblam says

    Great post. I agree with all you’ve said, and hope someone listens. But, I’m an old geezer and, as I favor life, I’m certainly not holding my breath.

    I agree with Rachel. And while, as you say, using FB as a channel to make your post *visible* may be a valid thing, wouldn’t SHARE through FB suffice, as opposed to the persnickety invasive LIKE path? I see you have both. Overboard?

  13. says

    Danny has it exactly right. Both Google and Facebook distribute my content and the YouTube numbers tell the story of the symbiotic success of that. Somehow, they want to be able to connect me to everything based on a profile history that I may have completely fabricated and probably will. Tormenting the search engines may be the best medicine. :)

    Fill the machine with ghosts.

    It isn’t about whether someone or something can find you, It’s about them believing they have you figured out well enough to tune you to their requirements.

  14. Adam says

    Seriously. I had to read tech news daily to find an article on techmeme about how to opt out among other things in order to be free of FB’s shenanigans. Even when you see the “See page suggestions” on your profile’s info section, it opts you back into the pages you just took off! Then it asks you if you are sure you want to opt out…again. This whole thing about treating members like children and asking them “Are you sure?” is getting quite annoying.

    The second commentor on this article said it right, just blank out your profile.

  15. says

    The issue for me is that FB is a closed silo and will continue to be closed….the “open” graph is not open….you have to be a member of FB to use it….so its not “open”……I come from a time where “Open” had a meaning that was not bent and shaped by companies….For me “Open” means that no company “Owns” either end the process….In the case the the FB Graph…..(Note I m calling it the FB graph as this is what it is…..) FB owns the entier process….Its interesting to note how times have changed in my opinion for the worse….At one time Microsoft attempted to do the same thing that FB is attempting to do….and then developers and the tech “community” were up in arms….Why would we allow a company like MS take control of our identities and the internet ? Well then we said that we would not allow this and it did not happen…..I think that some the reason that FB has been able to continue to push their attempt to close off the internet is that when journalist write about or repeat the FB pr line, their is not context given….If the current coverage of the FB Closed Graph included the “Facts” concerning FB’s total lack of respect for member privacy as well as for third party developers, I think that the outcome and perspectives would be very different……As for the developers inside and outside of FB that are building and extending FB’s attempt to close off the internet….you are all complicit, and as a developer myself….I know that all of you know the implications of what you are doing….Mark Zuckerberg cannot close off and pollute the internet without the participation of developers……You can pretend you set silently at your computers writing code without understanding the very real implications of what you are doing….but we all know that this is not true…Developers have always been the vanguard of an open internet and we need to continue with this fight……….As developers we have allowed a company with the track record of zealous tyrannical dictator to steal a “standard” that should be owned by the internet community at large…There is no magic in what the litter dictator is proposing…..A group of developers could and should create a truly open graph so that any one can create and consume the data….The sad and horrible fact is that instead of doing this the very developers that have been entrusted to keep the internet open have created the tools that will be used to close it off….

  16. says

    News Flash !!! When you go out in public everybody can see your face. OMG they can even read your expressions. Join the movement now … stamp out public places.

  17. says

    Man, this is getting way out of hand. FB and Google are trouncing on the ‘uninformed’ majority of web users and should be ashamed of themselves. I too don’t want to be a pawn in their greedy ego driven fight for World domination.
    Andy :-)

  18. says

    fjpoblam, Like and Share do basically the same thing, allow someone who likes something they’ve read to post that on Facebook. It’s akin to having a button that allows someone to post to Delicious, or post to Google Bookmarks, or to Digg and so on. The fact that Like might sound weird or scary is part of Facebook’s growing reputation problem. They change the names of things, and roll out various new items that do different things, that people can’t tell what to trust or how things will function, I’d says.

    This explains a bit more about what both Share and Like do:

    But again, the buttons do nothing here unless you want to share things. And yesterday, about 3,000 people came to this article directly from Facebook because the article was shared on Facebook, which I think was a good thing overall. It means it might flow out more. Then again, with Facebook’s hundreds of millions of users, that’s just a tiny, tiny drop in the bucket….

  19. Randall Stock says

    Totally agree. And please put Yahoo (or perhaps AT&T – I foolishly merged my accounts when I got DSL, and now when I have a problem each company claims it’s the other’s problem) on the list of privacy problems.

    Yahoo recently did something similar with their profiles and making info public. At least they informed me about it, but I don’t have time to waste reading through their options etc. I was able (I think) to get everything turned off.

  20. says

    I think the next blog entry should be about facebook’s support — or lack thereof. They’ve SERIOUSLY gotta be kidding. Try to get someone on the phone…go on…try!

  21. K Ryan says

    And now with the instant whatever, Google is as nosey and invasive as facebook.

    Anyone know of a browser that isn’t doing this crap?