f8 or collision course: Facebook ups the ante on privacy with API changes

Facebook announced some new features at their f8 Developer Conference yesterday. They have made some fundamental changes to the way that users will interact with the platform (including new verbs for representing user activity beyond the simple "Like"), view user profiles (via a new Timeline UI which will become the standard profile view), and share their data across the Open Graph API. Sharing data in real-time will become the new norm, with more emphasis placed on the one-time OAuth request for the user to confirm or deny sharing of profile and activity data. This means that users will no longer need to click a "Share" button on a Facebook app or third-party website. Instead, once the user has confirmed that initial authorization which links their accounts, activity data will be shared in real-time, transparently and in perpetuity with Facebook and up to 800 million other users. Of course there are also new analytics tools that enable marketers and app developers to watch the volumes of activity data that users will voluntarily donate.

These changes were summarized in a blog post by Facebook's CTO Bret Taylor and demonstrated by him and the Zuck in an elaborately staged plea for users to give up all their interests and real-time activity to Facebook once and for all. Their plan is to roll out the changes as part of a beta platform over the next few weeks, including a public launch for Timeline on September 30. While I applaud their efforts to expand the use of Activity Streams to describe shareable actions with better semantic clarity, I don't want to simply connect all the third party services I use and trust to my Facebook account and essentially outsource my future social interactions to them.

Through the work I'm doing for SARACEN, I will be implementing an alternative to this "fire-and-forget" approach to user privacy and third-party app integration based on emerging web standards such OStatus and WebID, with the goal being the return of control to the user.