Anonymous Logins will let users like you and me hold back from sharing any of our personal Facebook information with the developer or crucially, the lucrative ad networks associated with that app. This extension of Facebook Connect shuts off the spigots of data to anyone outside of Facebook, allowing the social network to retain that data for its nascent, mobile-ad play, known as Audience Audience Network.
Where Facebook wins is in amassing a treasure trove of this kind of personal and behavioral data that it can offer exclusively to advertisers. Ad networks like Flurry will still be able to gather data from apps who write their analytics tools into their code, but they are suddenly faced with a competitor which not only has a greater personal insights into an app’s users, but may even have authenticating details like their name and social graph.
Even if you discount Facebook’s advertising model, as the custodian of almost 1.3 billion users’ personal information. If you put that into a local perspective, some of South Africa’s direct marketers boast databases containing 50-odd million individuals.
The possible ramifications of this are only starting to become clear. For one thing, personal information is already a valuable commodity, it may even become a sort of currency given its enormous value. Facebook is clearly positioning itself well for this new personal data economy. Secondly, as the world heads closer to a sort of Scrutinised Zone, Facebook’s role could include being a powerful non-governmental power bloc with a “citizenry” rivalling the world’s larger nations in terms of population and economic and social influence.
For now, users should consider the possible ramifications for their privacy which equates to meaningful control over their personal information. Facebook now has an effective mechanism which it will use to trade access to users’ personal information. Before Anonymous Login, this was more covert and involved matching ads to Facebook updates and profile data programmatically. Anonymous Login goes beyond ads. It is a far more overt sales channel for users’ personal information with control shifting to Facebook from the people that control should belong to – the users, us.
Facebook made a number of announcements this last week at its f8 event, some of which are fairly misleading and have given many in the media the false impression that Facebook is serious about your privacy. One new feature is particularly misleading: Anonymous Login. This is how Facebook describes Anonymous Login:
Anonymous Login lets people log in to apps so they don’t have to remember usernames and passwords, but it doesn’t share personal information from Facebook. People can decide later if they want to share any additional information, once they understand more about the app.
On the one hand, this could be a useful feature for Facebook users who are interested in using their Facebook profile to login to apps but this is a fairly clever piece of misdirection and it relies on a number of assumptions. The first assumption is that users are inclined to use their Facebook profiles to login to apps they are using and wouldn’t use, say, another social profile or complete separate username and password.
Its not clear whether this feature limits how your experience of the app is customised based on your Facebook profile data. My guess is that the anonymity Facebook promises is fairly limited to not disclosing your name and contact details. Of course, Facebook knows exactly who you are and will still have the benefit of insight into your activities using these apps even though the apps themselves have limited information about you. It’s not particularly clear just how much of your profile data remains hidden but what is clear is a big push to have developers adopt Facebook logins as a key identity platform.
Why would developers do this? For one thing, characterising the login as “anonymous” and all about privacy, integrating Facebook logins with the Anonymous Login feature suggests that developers are deeply concerned about users’ privacy. Users may believe that this feature somehow anonymises them where it counts and it doesn’t. Users tend not to be concerned that Facebook’s login is leaky and somehow passes more of their information to 3rd party providers. Rather, users are generally concerned that Facebook knows so much about them and may use this data in ways they hadn’t anticipated.
The Anonymous Login feature may give developers a relatively guilt-free Facebook integration option to streamline Facebook users’ adoption of their apps but it ultimately gives Facebook even more insight into what users are doing with apps Facebook previously wouldn’t have known much about. If Facebook users were concerned about their privacy before Anonymous Login, they would be more concerned now.