Archive for the 'Social networking' Category

Should We Trust Facebook Apps?

Last week facebook changed their terms of use and it caused a lot of stir on the Internet. Immediately there were blog posts criticizing facebook’s actions, and some (myself included) were thinking about giving up their facebook account, and disgusted that quitting facebook would not free them from the facebook terms and conditions. At the time I was wondering how much we should trust our personal information to services like facebook, but I had already done a lot of sharing of my inner self, including posting pictures of my family and writing the 25 random things about me (which took a little soul-searching). I gave these things freely to my friends, thinking my privacy settings would protect others from seeing them, but when the terms of facebook changed, it appeared my privacy settings were no protection. Fortunately, facebook changed their terms back to the previous version, but it still left me a little unsettled and got me wondering how trust issues like this affect users in general. 

facebook-trustThen one of my good friends commented on my post 11 things I learned from myFarm–she is reluctant to accept the gifts I’ve sent her on facebook because she doesn’t want to give the application permission to access all her information. That got me wondering:

  • How much access do those facebook applications really have?
  • What are they allowed to do with people’s information?
  • What restrictions are placed on applications to protect users’ privacy? Are there any? Should there be?
  • Why do they need access?
  • And the big question: should we facebook users put our trust in facebook apps?

If you just go from the message that is displayed, facebook apps have access to:

  1. Your facebook profile (gender, birthdate, relationship status, religious views, political views, activities, interests, favorite music/TV/movies, etc., contact information, e-mail address, phone number, IM name, address, web site, education, work)
  2. Your photos (all the photos you’ve posted on facebook)
  3. Your friends’ info (Does that mean my friend list? How much info about my friends do they have access to?)
  4. Other content that it requires to work (What does that include? Haven’t they already given the app every bit of personal information they have about me and all my friends?)

So basically, facebook apps have access to everything you’ve shared on facebook other than perhaps your Notes and Posted items, but it’s not clear that those are off limits either.

Now to give facebook a little credit, they have posted “Guiding Principles” for applications to follow; however, there is nothing that forces application builders to adhere to these principles. Guiding Principle #2 is:

Applications should be Trustworthy. …

  • Secure: Protects user data and honors privacy choices for everyone across the social graph …
  • Respectful: Values user attention and honors their intentions in communications and actions …
  • Transparent: Explains how features will work and how they won’t work, especially in triggering user-to-user communications …

Read the guiding principles here.

But we know not all facebook apps follow these principles. Some facebook apps apparently load adware to your computer.

Last November, facebook launched an application verification program, but when browsing facebook applications, I don’t see any verification information on any of them. Okay, I only spot-checked a few apps, but it makes me wonder: Is this really being implemented? I see no positive comments from the developers, who appear to be afraid of paying an exorbitant fee to get verified.

I was hoping some good news would come out of this investigation, but I really couldn’t find any good reasons for people to trust facebook apps–or to even know which ones to trust and which not to. If you are one of the people who was scared off by the warning message, perhaps you’re one of the smart ones!

The best advice is probably not to share anything on facebook that you don’t want to be shared publicly and to be careful about which applications you choose to trust. Read customer reviews and the application description, and take your best guess at how trustworthy they are.

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11 things I learned from myFarm on Facebook

myfarm1I admit it, I’m hopelessly addicted to the myFarm game on Facebook. I myself call it a silly game, and yet I cannot keep away from it. I find myself stopping by myFarm several times a day. So to give myself (and the rest of you myFarm addicts) a little credit, I think there is some redeeming social value to be gleaned from myFarm-ing. (Other than by playing you are supporting a good cause.)

Here are a few things I learned (or re-learned) by playing this “silly” game that has become my virtual zen garden:

  1. Tending virtual plants and seeing them grow, flower, and produce fruit can feed your need for color through a dismal, cold, and very gray winter.
  2. The more you give, the more you receive and the richer you will become.
  3. Being rich with friendship is better than being rich with money.
  4. Know who the true farmers are in your circle of friends, and only send farm gifts to them. They are the ones who will appreciate them most—the others will see your gift as a nuisance.
  5. Sending gifts to someone who does not give back is like loving someone who only takes and never gives. It can drain you of energy. Give to all your farm friends, but give more to those who give back. As in friendship and love, a circle of positive energy feeds both souls.
  6. Sometimes the changes you make don’t take the first time. It’s okay. Just keep trying until it does.
  7. Savor the moment, and save the best for last. My favorite color is purple, so I save the plum trees to harvest last so I can savor the color of them for a few more moments. It’s a small thing, but life is so much sweeter when fed with small moments of joy.
  8. Tend to ALL the important things in your life. Escaping to the farm is good, but there is more to life than myFarm.
  9. Have patience. Do not be too hasty to act. Wait for the button before you click it.
  10. Beware of advertisers who wish to steal your attention away from your purpose.
  11. Watch your bank account, but don’t be fanatical about it.

Trackthis integrates package tracking into social networking

If you twitter or facebook and you order things that you have shipped to you, you’re gonna love this: TrackThis figured out how to take those hard-to-crack shipping APIs and let you track your packages via facebook or twitter.

I was all excited to try it, until I went to Facebook and discovered:

This application cannot be added to your Pages. Facebook applications for Pages can be specialized for certain Page categories (e.g. Restaurants or Bands). Either you have no Pages that fit the category of this application, or you have already added this application to your eligible Pages.

What kind of Facebook page do I need to be able to add it? That’s really confusing and is not making for a very good user experience. (Um, well, it’s denying me from even having a user experience! Hate that!) 

Well, maybe I’ll try it on Twitter.

Hey, I wonder if TrackThis would like to share some of their shipping API expertise with our comment-ers who are having difficulty integrating the buggers? See the comments on my shipping API post.

Why is Facebook so addictive?

I admit: my blog has been suffering from lack of attention lately. Why? Yes, I’ve been busy with work, but that doesn’t truly capture it. I have to admit it: I’ve become addicted to facebook.

I first started on facebook because my teenage son is on there (and has been addicted from the start)–and being a mom, I wanted to know what it was about and what he was doing up there and the easiest way for me to do that was to get up there myself.

At first it was awful. I hated it. I had just a few friends and those few I had kept superpoking me with hits and kicks and slaps. I felt like I was getting beat up every time I logged on–there was so much negative energy! My son had the easy answer to that: “Mom, if you don’t like that, just uninstall that app.” So I did and life became much more peaceful again.

It was then that I realized Facebook can be whatever you want it to be–that’s the magic of it. Whatever it is you’re interested in, you can find it on Facebook. For me, I’m into being green and saving the earth, so I found games where I can send fish and plants to my friends to save the rainforest and the ocean. I can send “green energy minutes” to get wineries in CA to power up with sustainable energy. The one I really find addictive is myFarm. I’m so into plants and food, especially plants that produce food and it’s winter here now. myFarm gives me the opportunity to see things grow and harvest them, plant them again, harvest, plant, rearrange–and send my friends gifts of trees, cows, horses, chickens and goats–and they send me gifts back. On top of all the fun, it helps fight global warming. Oh it’s great fun.

The other magic part about it is you can connect with friends you lost track of–and stay connected. I’ve connected with friends I used to work with 10 – 20 years ago. And then one of my high school buddies found me one day, and she was connected to the rest of the group. It was so awesome to hear from them and see where they’re at, see their families and know what their lives are like now. It’s like stepping back into high school, but we’ve all matured so it’s even more fun than it was back then.

It’s not the most usable site out there. There are many people I run into who tell me they just don’t know how to use it. They might be up there, but they don’t quite know how to do everything.

And it’s not very reliable, either. Many times I get errors and have to retry and retry.

It’s full of annoying ads that try to trick you into clicking them. You have to be very careful where you click on Facebook. facebook-annoyingadWhen you’re using an application and you see a green “Continue” button, you would usually want to click it, right? But the green “Continue” button is really part of the ad, so you should (almost) NEVER click a button that says “Continue” on Facebook. No wonder it’s so hard to use!

Sometimes, even without clicking on anything, you’ll get an ad or land on a web site you didn’t want. This happens to me all the time on myFarm. On any other web site, I would leave and never come back if they did that to me, and when it does, I make a little note in my head never to shop at that store or use that site. Anyone that would purposely hijack a user from their task (even if my task is to play a silly game in Facebook) is not worth doing business with. It is a level of rudeness that transcends rude–almost to the point of violating the user’s rights.

So why do I put up with it? Because my friends are there, because it helps me feel like I’m doing something good for the world, because I can stay connected with the people I want to be connected with and know how they are, what they’re up to, see pictures of them and their kids, their pets, their lives, share old memories. It’s like the bar where everyone hangs out–maybe you don’t like it all that much, but you like the people there, so you keep going. I just wish ALL my friends were there.

I bet I could easily find my other friends on Facebook if they would fix those usability problems and annoying, obnoxious ads. They could really take a lesson from Google there. Google’s ads are unobtrusive, and they support the task the user is undertaking, so the ads are very welcome and useful and even nice to have. Google ads are never rude, interrupting, deceitful, and confusing, like Facebook ads are.