The Inevitable Friction of Facebook's Frictionless Sharing

Congress is calling for an FTC investigation into Facebook's tracking practices

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Despite the excitement, Facebook's new super sharing features are creating a lot of problems not only for the social network but also for its partners. A pair of congressman are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook's continuing to track users even after they log out. Meanwhile, Spotify is scrambling to scale back how much information it's compelling users to share by offering a new "private listening" feature that turns off Facebook's new sharing features. Meanwhile, news organizations are catching flak for violating people's privacy by broadcasting what everybody's reading in the new social news apps. When he announced the latest round of Facebook features, Mark Zuckerberg proudly touted the appeal of "frictionless sharing," but a week later, the grinding sound of user revolt is drowning out that message.

The long and short of Facebook's new approach to sharing is that it's a passive experience. When you listen to a song on Spotify, Facebook pushes an update into the new Ticker dashboard to let your friends know what you're listening to. The same thing happens when you read an article in one of Facebook's new social news apps. "We think this is going to make it so that you can make an order of magnitude more connections than you could before," said Zuckerberg when announcing the changes that take the friction out of sharing. But as Jeff Sonderman writes at the Poynter Institute, "One problem is that the 'friction'--the act of choosing what to share, with whom, and how--is what makes sharing meaningful."

When it comes to privacy, lawmakers think that Facebook's push for users to become more passive about giving up information about what they're doing might be  illegal. Congressmen Ed Markey and Joe Barton are telling the FTC that Facebook's methods for tracking users could be "unfair and deceptive." Their skepticism was sparked by a blog post from Nik Cubrilovic that details how Facebook continues to collect data about their users when they log out. According to Cubrilovic, Facebook has been doing this for a while, but the latest push for more passive sharing highlights how the social network is overstepping privacy boundaries without letting their users know. Markey and Barton apparently agree. "We believe that tracking users without their knowledge or consent raises serious privacy concerns," the congressmen told the FTC.

Partners like Spotify are responding the backlash over the new frictionless sharing options by offering users a way to turn them off. Facebook is also responding with a commitment to stop collecting identifiable information about people after they log out. However as The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal points out, Facebook has sent a message to users. He calls calls the new Facebook "The Meaning Machine" and suggests that Facebook is inevitably watching its users more closely and casting a dark shadow in the process. "You can hide whatever you want from other people," writes Madrigal. "But you cannot revise and you cannot hide from The Meaning Machine itself."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.