I see you getting yourselves into a froth about frictionless sharing on Facebook. These are the three things I observe people saying most often:
1. “I hate that [app] shares things WITHOUT MY PERMISSION!”
2. “But I don’t CARE if my friend has just been to a place/listened to a song/watched a movie/read an article. I wish it wouldn’t pollute my newsfeed!”
3. “Ugh! I don’t want to share EVERYTHING with EVERYONE all the time!”
These things are, needless to say, usually expressed in the strongest possible terms on Facebook, Twitter, in comments etc, and almost invariably paint the individual as a victim under the conspiratorial cosh of a big evil megacorp. How very bally dare they?
If these things bother you, gentle netizen, might I offer the following solutions?
1a. Apps need permission to share (post) things on your newsfeed on your behalf. In fact, you have to opt in to use them. Opt IN, not opt out. You may not have paid attention as you whizzed through the screens, but there’s a point at which you usually have to click a box that says ‘Yes, I give my permission for this app to do what it does’ – even if that box is actually labelled ‘install’. And somewhere not too far away, there’ll be a description of what it does.
So before you rant about apps posting ‘without asking your permission’, spare a moment and ponder whether you installed an app without reading what you were signing up for, perhaps.
I know EULAs are a pain and no-one reads them, but this is hardly one of those 193-page epics you get in iTunes, where you may very well be giving up the rights to your first-born on p78 for all you know. It’s a couple of lines, that says quite clearly what’s going to happen, and what’s going to be shared. If you click install, you’re giving permission. If you click cancel, it should set a cookie and not ask you again.
2a. If your friends are bothering you by constantly sharing things they do/read/eat/watch/listen to, you can quiet them down. Next to the thing that they’ve posted – sorry, the thing that has been posted on their behalf by the app they gave permission to – there’s a little down arrow. Click it and then select one of the options to fine-tune the signal you get from your friend. You want all their updates? Just the hand-written ones? Everything apart from music and videos? Nothing from this app at all? No problem. Just highlight your choice.
3a. You can fine-tune your sharing permissions, too. If you are bothering your friends (or you are bothered) by frictionlessly sharing every step you take, every move you make, every video you watch and everything you add to Pinterest, to name but a few possibilities, you can fine-tune your own sharing preferences. You can do this not only where you originally gave permission to the app (see above) but also on the app preferences page.
On the left hand side of your main screen (what you see when you visit facebook.com) there’l be a list of apps you use. Click on the little “more” icon that appears next to the apps header, or on the little pen icon (this means “edit” in Facebook-land) next to the app you want to tweak.
This brings you to a magical place where you can change your preferences about who sees what – choose to share output from this app with the wider public, or just friends, or only yourself.
Or go for “custom” settings, which enable you to share with particular lists of people (which you can set up in your friends settings area) or even *exclude* certain individuals or lists, as illustrated below.
So you don’t mind sharing what you’re listening to, but you don’t want to share it with your boss? No problem. You can tweak that. Or you want to share your Foursquare checkins with everyone apart from your real best friends? Also completely achievable via the same method.
I’m not suggesting that frictionless sharing is always brilliant and Facebook is perfect or anything like that – these are topics for other blog posts, as yet unwritten (at least by me). I’m just pointing out that there are options, and you have agency in this experience.
You are not a sea-slug. You can change things.
So take some damn responsibility for customising your own Facebook experience. If it’s not working for you – or your friends – tweak it. Frictionless sharing is not a massive conspiracy to infringe your privacy at every moment, even though you may not like the implementation or philosophy or even the name. You have choices and options about your publishing and reading experiences. Use them.
If you care enough to publicly moan, please care enough to fiddle with your settings, too.
NB Although I work at The Guardian and was involved with developing the Guardian Facebook app, these thoughts – like all the others on this site – are entirely my own. I’m not speaking on behalf of any other individual or company at this point. This is my purely personal
rant encouragement for people to take a bit of responsibility and exercise a bit of choice in their web experience, or STFU.