Facebook has been trying to become more transparent as a company. New General Counsel Colin Stretch posted Tuesday a thorough report of all government requests for Facebook data over the first six months of 2013. This report details the number of requests a country’s government has made to Facebook, the number of users’ data that was requested, and the percentage of requests where Facebook did produce data.
“Your privacy is important to us.”
If your privacy was really important, would the websites that you visit every day, the ones that you use to share stories with family and connect with long-distance friends, need to continuously revise a contract to tell you so? If social media websites really did respect your privacy, would policies be so littered with jargon that the entire document reads like fine print?
One of the social media privacy (or “data use”) policies to capture the most heated attention is Facebook’s.
Structured status updates, previously only available on mobile web and desktop, have found their way to a Facebook native application. The latest Facebook for iOS update includes the ability to share what you’re eating, watching or reading.
Facebook also offered enhanced privacy settings, allowing users to change who sees content they’ve already posted.
Facebook users have made it clear that they want more control over their privacy. The company’s investors said that repeatedly during Facebook’s first shareholders meeting, and the latest Android mobile app update shows that the site is working on more ways to get privacy controls in the users’ hands.
From the Android app, Facebook users can now change the privacy settings on any of their prior posts.
Previously, users could only control who sees posts they’re about to make from their Android app, but now people can go back to any post they’ve made and tweak the privacy settings.
Facebook video ad units could come with TV price tags – Facebook is reportedly prepping to sell its new video ads with an “upfront”-type marketplace and TV-like prices. According to AdAge, Facebook will have four daily summer slots — women over 30, women under 30, men over 30 and men over 30 — with an asking price close to $1 million. The exact ad format hasn’t been locked down, but it is believed that the videos will be 15-seconds long and users will see no more than three per day at launch. It is unclear whether the ads will autoplay in the feed or not.
More Messenger for Android users get free calling - Facebook this week released an update for its Messenger app on Android, bringing free VoiP calling to users in the U.S. and 23 other countries. Previously, this was in testing with Android users in Canada and iOS users in several countries. From Messenger, users can tap the “i” button inside a conversation and then select “Free Call.”
Facebook today announced a number of changes meant to improve the experience and increase the possibilities for mobile developers building apps that integrate with the social network. This includes new Open Graph APIs, a standard mobile share dialog, faster login and a Technology Partners program to help developers find third-party solutions that suit their needs.
One of the most significant developments announced today is the Object API, which allows mobile developers to create Open Graph objects without having to host corresponding webpages. Previously, applications had to serve data into Open Graph through web endpoints, so native iOS and Android apps weren’t able to build the same types of experiences or gain the same opportunities for distribution and discovery as web-basedd apps, unless they have the resources to build a web backend. Now this won’t be necessary and mobile or web apps can use the Object API for easier object creation.
Facebook is also introducing an object privacy model to allow objects that have custom or non-public privacy settings. This is especially important for some of the user generated content that comes from mobile apps. Web-hosted objects, on the other hand, have always had to be public. To help developers manage all their objects now, Facebook created a new “object browser” interface — seen below — that aims to organize developers’ objects in a more visual and intuitive way.
Some Facebook users are seeing a banner above their News Feed encouraging them to update their “acquaintances” list so certain friends appear less frequently in their feed.
The acquaintances list launched along with “close friends” and Smart Lists in 2011. Users can add people to the acquaintances list to limit the amount and type of updates they see from them. Users can also apply this list to improve their privacy settings and prevent certain photos or posts, for instance, from being visible to friends they aren’t as close to. Over the past year we’ve seen Facebook try different ways to get users to update this list, but the prompt reader Matt Navarra saw on his homepage late last week is the most prominent.
Facebook addresses privacy questions about Home – Facebook today shared its answers to common privacy questions users might have about Home, the social network’s latest development for Android. Home is optional software that makes Facebook features more integrated into a user’s device. The company says it does not have any of a user’s privacy settings and that all data collected by the service is covered by Facebook’s existing Data Use Policy. Home collects information about how people use the service, such as whether they Like a photo, send a message or launch an app. That information is stored for 90 days in order for Facebook to understand how people are responding to the app and how it could be improved. Facebook says Home does not treat location information any differently than the existing Facebook app. Users can also turn off location services completely. More about Home and privacy is available here.
Facebook stock up after Home announcement – Facebook shares closed at $27.39 this week, up 7 percent since Monday. The stock hasn’t been above $27 per share since March 14. Shares fell beneath $26 earlier in the week as rumors swirled about whether Facebook was launching its own phone or developing a modified version of Android. Wall Street seemed pleased with the company’s decision to release software that could run on a number of devices to make them more social, while also partnering with HTC, AT&T and others to ensure that Home comes preloaded on some new phones.
Facebook, Gates Foundation to sponsor hackathon - Facebook and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are partnering to organize HackEd, two hackathon events this month to address problems in education. Developers will build Facebook-integrated tools for “social learning,” “out-of-school study” and “college-going.” One event will be at Facebook HQ in California April 9. The other will be its London offices April 24. Winners could take home up to $5,000. This is the second year Facebook and the Gates Foundation have put on this event. Last year it was in California only.
Facebook open sources benchmarking tool – Facebook this week released LinkBench, an open source tool for benchmarking graph databases. LinkBench allows developers to replicate the data model, graph structure and request mix of Facebook’s own MySQL workload, while being customizable and extensible for their specific needs. Tim Armstrong, computer science PhD candidate who led the project during an internship at Facebook, said, “We also believe that the broader community working on databases and social applications can benefit from a realistic benchmark for storage and retrieval of social network and other graph-structured data. These applications place many unique demands on database infrastructure due to rapid growth, large volumes of data, and rich data models, yet there are few benchmarks that test performance for these workloads.” LinkBench is available on GitHub.
Facebook re-enables photo tag suggestions – Facebook announced Thursday that it is re-enabling the photo tag suggestion feature in the U.S., which uses facial recognition to help users identify friends in their photos. The controversial feature launched in late 2010, and was removed temporarily last year while Facebook made technical improvements and considered privacy matters. The feature uses algorithms to group photo uploads by those with similar faces, then it suggests friends those faces may belong to by matching them with previously tagged photos of friends. Users can adjust or approve those tags. The feature is on for users by default.
Facebook launches Ask Our CPO feature - Facebook this week launched an Ask Our CPO feature, which allows users to submit questions, concerns and feedback about privacy issues to the company’s chief privacy officer, Erin Egan, who will respond to some questions each month. The feature works as an app on the Facebook Privacy page and is part of Facebook’s attempts to give users more opportunities to raise important matters and get responses from the company, especially after the social network eliminated the option for user votes on policy changes late last year.
Along with other new privacy controls, Facebook today announced changes to the apps permissions process, which separates read and write permissions into different dialogs. The new flow gives users more control, but adds an extra step that could have an effect on acceptance rate and change the type of access users grant apps.
Today’s changes do not affect how users install games on Facebook.com, but will apply to mobile apps and other sites using Facebook login. Now that apps will request read and write permissions separately, users have the option to log into an application and receive a personalized experience using their name, friend list and other aspects of their profile, but they can reject the app’s request to publish activity on their behalf.
Previously, users accepted these permissions in one step, which led some users to unknowingly authorize an app to post to their wall. When users better understand what an app can do, they are less likely to be taken by surprise and end up marking an app as spam. They will also be more likely to add more apps in the future. Without feeling like they have control over what they share, users might be hesitant to add any third-party apps. That said, the two-step process could also lead to lower install rates or lead fewer people to allow apps to share their activity.
In some cases, the app auth process may involve three steps. That’s because Facebook also distinguishes “manage” permissions from read and write. If an app wants to manage a user’s ads, events, notifications or other products, it will have to request this in a third dialog.
Some aspects developers will appreciate are how the new dialogs are smaller and more lightweight, which is less likely to turn off users, and how some permissions have been combined. For example, apps used to have to request separate permissions for “publish_stream,” “publish_actions” and “publish_checkins.” Now an app can simply ask if it can publish to Facebook or not. “Basic info” has also been renamed to “public profile and friend list” to be more descriptive and transparent to users.
Facebook says all mobile and non-game web apps will be converted to the new auth flow automatically. No changes are required to a developer’s code.
Here’s a look at how the read and write permissions dialogs appear on different platforms:
Images from Facebook.
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