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TechNewsWorld.com

Facebook Aims to be Web's Universal ID

By Walaika Haskins
Dec 1, 2008 3:52 PM PT

Facebook said it will expand Facebook Connect, its universal log-in service, to integrate functionalities with more third-party Web sites. Originally announced at the social network's f8 conference in July, Facebook Connect is part of the next iteration of Facebook Platform and allows users to bring their Facebook account information, friends and privacy to other third-party sites, desktop applications and devices, according to Dave Morin, Facebook senior platform manager.

Facebook Aims to be Web's Universal ID

As more sites come on board and join Facebook Connect, subscribers to the social networking site will find prominently placed Facebook Connect log-in links. Sites such as TheInsider.com and Govit.com make it simple with these highly visible links. Others, like CNN's the Forum, have a more involved process.

"The service will also enable third-party Web sites to make their application, site or device more social through a few relatively easy-to-implement features," Morin told TechNewsWorld.

Universal Connector

On Nov. 4, Facebook began accepting submissions from news sites for approval to join Facebook Connect.

Adding sites to Facebook Connect is critical for the service to work, said Caroline Dangson, an IDC analyst.

"Facebook Connect is nothing if it does not have partners," she told TechNewsWorld.

The largest social networking site with about 120 million users, Facebook is not alone in its ambitions to become a one-stop site for Web site log-ins. Google, MySpace and Yahoo also have similar services in development.

"IDC believes the entire Web will become a place that is more social, where the experience will be less about connecting with friends on specific '.com' destinations and more about connecting with friends on every site you visit. Facebook Connect and Open Social are two major movements to help break down the walls of the Internet and provide a more seamless experience," Dangson explained.

The Two P's: Portability and Privacy

Facebook Connect, in particular, will give insight into the behaviors of its users outside of its own application -- an area where privacy is an immediate concern, she continued.

"Facebook must take the higher road and explain to its users exactly what information it plans to collect as they use their Facebook login on other Web pages. There is a delicate balance here," Dangson noted.

Consumers want the ability to take their data with them to sites they visit on the Web without having to log into each site, a capability known as "data portability." However, only about 3 percent of all U.S. online consumers the IDC surveyed during the summer of 2008 said they were comfortable with Web sites tracking data about who they know.

"Consumers prefer information to be collected only about them, not their friends. Facebook has to be extremely careful with this and carefully explain to users the implications of its Facebook Connect feature, because it involves information about who users know," Dangson said.

That's because not everyone on Facebook is a "friend," necessarily. Facebook users often have contacts who are work colleagues or even passing acquaintances. They may visit some sites that they would not want a work colleague to know about, so Facebook has to offer several privacy settings that let users determine who sees what, she added.

The Beacon Debacle

Facebook is proceeding with what appears to be extreme caution following the flack surrounding the launch of Beacon about a year ago. Beacon is an advertising system that forwards data from outside Web sites to Facebook and allows users to share their activities with friends. At launch, it sometimes shared more information than users wanted others to know. Facebook later tightened its privacy options.

At its debut and for several weeks afterward, Facebook users found that their online activities were posted on their profile pages for all to see. After many protestations from users, however, the social networking site changed the service from an opt-out to an opt-in offering.

"Sites have to be extremely careful with the information that is shared across sites," Dangson pointed out. Facebook has apparently learned its lesson and has taken steps with Facebook Connect so that the service will not put subscribers privacy at risk.

"With Facebook Connect, users will have the opportunity to share actions on partner sites with friends back on Facebook through feeds. Users will have complete control over which sites they choose to connect with, as well as which social actions are shared with their friends. Additionally, users will benefit from dynamic privacy, as the same privacy settings they have set up on Facebook will follow them wherever they decide to login throughout the Web," Morin explained.


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