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As Facebook users fret over its wider reach, Post readies opt-out

A vocal contingent of Facebook users could use a "Dislike" button to record their reaction to the expanded sharing system the social network launched Wednesday.

Facebook's new features--implemented by The Post in the form of the "Network News" box you see on this and other pages, plus the "Like" buttons next to many stories--have a fair number of users alarmed or angry to see Facebook apparently following them around the Web.

facebook_like_button.png

Others, already sick of hearing about the popular social site from friends, seem to find these Facebook boxes and buttons an irritating distraction. (In case you missed this in Wednesday's update, Post chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham sits on Facebook's board of directors.)

Consider the tone of the comments and questions Post Managing Editor Raju Narisetti received in a Web chat here this afternoon. Wisely, Narisetti led off with this bit of news:

So, by tonite or Saturday, our tech folks would have rolled out a clear Opt Out button on the module (a big X) that will give you a few choices, including the option to not have the module show at all when you come to washingtonpost.com. Of course if you use multiple log-ins or use different computers, you might have to do it a couple of times.

That opt-out briefly surfaced in my browser shortly after 5: a small red "x" at its top right corner, which I could click to bring up a preferences page with options to enable or disable Network News.

While we all wait for that to reappear (those of you who, like my wife, work in IT need no reminder of how site updates can hiccup), let me try to explain how this Facebook feature works and what you can do to control its workings.

Essentially, each Network News box and Like button, on our site or anybody else's, is a Facebook colony. Picture a lengthy network cable, running from each of those outposts all the way back to the Facebook homeland, and you may have a clearer sense of how they function.

That may be obvious if you know how Web pages are constructed from ingredients hosted at numerous other sites--text at one server, images at another, ads at a third. But that sourcing is probably invisible to most people.

(If you're in the first contingent and want more details about Facebook's plans, see Christina Warren's higher-level write-up on Mashable for a high-level evaluation; if you're in the second, see Mathew Ingram's now-what post on GigaOM.)

So to control how data commutes to and from each of these Facebooklets back to the mothership, you need to adjust your privacy settings on Facebook. Go there, hit the "Account" menu at the top right and select "Privacy Settings." On the privacy-settings page, click "Profile Information" and then set the menu to the right of "Likes and Interests" to "Only Friends" (or whatever exposure level you prefer).

Then, to opt out of the wider-reaching data sharing Facebook has launched with partner sites Yelp, Pandora and Docs.com, click back to the main privacy page, select "Applications and Websites," and then click the "Edit Setting" button to the right of "Instant Personalization."

Seem clear enough? Let me know--I'm writing this up as part of this weekend's Help File. Then let me know what privacy settings you've used.

I'll close by noting a conflict of interest I and many other journalists have with this sort of thing. See, we like to know that people have read our work and got something out of it. So we look at traffic numbers, we count comments, we check how often people click on the links we share on Twitter and so on. Facebook "Like" numbers are yet another way for us to validate our existence quantitatively. And so I don't mind seeing that "[Name], [Name] and 7 others like this," and I'll bet most of my colleagues don't either.

But I can understand why you might feel differently. Let me know what you think in the comments, and if you'll opt out of Network News when that setting is available.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 23, 2010; 5:38 PM ET
Categories:  Privacy , Social media , The business we have chosen  
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Comments

I wrote about something similar yesterday, which explains how even when someone opts out of these sort of Facebook features, Facebook can still track the activity on cooperating sites.

I think this issue may be missed in that an opt-out doesn't somehow halt Facebook's ability to still collect data if it wants and use that data at a later time.

For example, on this Washington Post page, there's a call to a Facebook JavaScript used to allow sign-on via Facebook. The JavaScript is served from a Facebook server and therefore Facebook knows I've visited this page. It's like Google Analytics (which is also used on most big sites), but worse, because at least with GA I have a chance at remaining anonymous.

Here's what I wrote:

http://mindofjay.com/2010/04/22/how-facebook-will-be-exploiting-your-private-info-in-the-near-future/

Now imagine a deeper connection to Facebook where the JavaScript code isn't relegated for sign-on but resides on the site to add the new "Like" feature. Facebook may allow me & others to "opt out" of having that feature made visible or expose my actions to some database I'm not aware of, but it doesn't necessarily allow me top opt out of Facebook spying on my activities in the first place.

That is the greater issue.

Posted by: MindOfJay | April 23, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Hi Rob,

I have clicked on the X on the module and followed the instructions multiple times (selecting Disable Network News and clicking the Update button), and every time I come back to the washingtonpost.com home page, the Network News module is still there. Please help – I’d really like the Weather, Traffic and Most Read modules to be back in the top part of the page! I don’t use multiple log-ins or different computers.

I've sent an e-mail to the Post Managing Editor as well.

Posted by: hmom | April 23, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

I'm having the same experience as hmom. I've even signed out and signed back in (all on the same computer, with the same browser) after selecting Disable Network News and clicking the Update button, and the #*($&@*## module still shows up.

I've been reading the Post for 40 years (which I guess makes me irrelevant to the current management, because that must mean I'm old), and have continued to subscribe even though for the past five or so years I ready it almost entirely on the Web. I've been fiercely proud that it was my hometown paper, always been somewhat disdainful of the papers that I found at my hotel doorstep in other cities, was sad when the most recent round of redesign for the print edition made it look more like the NYTimes.

Now I'm just filled with bile and disgust. How could the Washington Post have fallen to the point that it thinks the feedback of someone pushing a "like" button is worth having or tracking?

How as a journalist can you value that over page clicks from unique visitors - i.e., total number of people who think your stuff is worth their times - or serious, thoughtful, appreciative, or even critical comments by readers who actually spend a few minutes typing their responses in comments (and hey, kudos to the Post for allowing comments on almost all stories other than wire stories, while the NYTimes has some random approach I have yet to understand for deciding what stories people can comment on), or sending letters or emails?

And the dismissive attitude displayed by Mr. Narisetti in his little editor's notes and in the chat today leaves me wondering whether I can trust the Post with the information you require us to give you before you'll let us read your articles online. If the management so clearly doesn't get that this bothers people, and so clearly doesn't believe they have a right to be bothered, who knows what they'll do with the information they gather when a user creates a user ID?

Maybe I'll just read about the news from "citizen journalists" blogging away out there in the ether. Sigh.

Posted by: jxy123 | April 23, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

I just make up an e-mail address when signing up to use WaPo online, so I am not sure that I need to worry about the Facebook connection. I would, however, like to get rid of all of the error messages in Firefox about bad servlets and Javascript errors.

This takes a site I visit several times each day into something marginal useful at best.

Posted by: Ebola_22039 | April 23, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse

This week I learned that my name and some of my web activities can be broadcast to the internet without being asked. I saw it. This cannot be argued. What we they do next week? Who knows.

Posted by: wp04232010 | April 23, 2010 11:47 PM | Report abuse

jxy123 has it right with the word 'dismissive' to describe Mr. Narisetti's rather patronizing attitude in the chat. He kept treating commenters like little children as he described in detail all the back pedaling and explaining that dripped out of WaPo over the two days since this was first implemented.

If the exact nature of the app had been fully described all at once, perhaps the reaction wouldn't have been so hostile, but there is still a sense that someone is hiding something.

And the widget itself is less than useless. In two days, I was the only one of my sixty facebook friends to have a link show-up. At that glacier pace it is going to be nearly unused. And the random sampling of oversharing non-'friends' they use to pad out the recommendations should be a warning to them that they are being exploited and exposed.

And finally, the app was buggy, frequently blocked by IT managers, slowed loading of pages, and monopolized valuable screen space. All undesirable traits in the endless quest for pageviews.

WaPo should think twice before selling their soul to Zuckerberg for the price of a crappy app.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 23, 2010 11:51 PM | Report abuse

As to your question, I have already opted-out. It couldn't happen fast enough.

Posted by: yellojkt | April 23, 2010 11:55 PM | Report abuse

==
So to control how data commutes to and from each of these Facebooklets back to the mothership, you need to adjust your privacy settings on Facebook. Go there, hit the "Account" menu at the top right and select "Privacy Settings." On the privacy-settings page, click "Profile Information" and then set the menu to the right of "Likes and Interests" to "Only Friends" (or whatever exposure level you prefer).
...
Seem clear enough? Let me know
==

No, sir. Not clear enough. I've looked and looked and in my Firefox, there is no "Likes and Interests" where you say there should be.

Now I'm lost and probably having my stuff blasted all over the Web for mills and eventually cents.

Posted by: RHMathis | April 24, 2010 12:59 AM | Report abuse

This remains and incredibly bad idea. The "brand" of WaPo has been forever diminished in my estimation. But, I am a reader of 50 years and thus not important to the future of WaPo.

Just be WaPo. You are good at that.

No RED X on my pages.

The loading delays of the Facebook offering are a significant distraction to browsing satisfaction. Not to mention the dribble it offers. Enough is enough.

Posted by: wovose | April 24, 2010 7:48 AM | Report abuse

I agree wholeheartedly with 99% of what has already been posted. Making this an "opt out" rather than "opt in" was totally the wrong way to do this.

Last night, I tried to click on the red x - the page froze and I had to cntrl/alt/delete to get away from the Post. The page with the comments on an earlier story on this debacle freezes every time I have tried to load it. (There were almost 100% negative comments - maybe the page was deliberately disabled?)

I am becoming reluctant to sign in anywhere - I will most definitely be visiting the Post less often, as the decision to connect in this way with Facebook (AND MAKE IT AN "OPT-OUT" CHOICE) has seriously damaged your credibility and reputation with me.

Posted by: DESS1 | April 24, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

Most of the comments seem to come from Facebook users, so here's a perspective from someone who isn't. My daughter would really like me to join, as would a group of former fellow graduate students. So I've been looking at the privacy disclosures and thinking about it.

With or without an opt-out on Washington Post or other sites, with or without understanding how to navigate the Facebook preferences to limit the consequences, this feature screams, "don't join."

Posted by: dwsmall | April 24, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

This remains and incredibly bad idea. The "brand" of WaPo has been forever diminished in my estimation. But, I am a reader of 50 years and thus not important to the future of WaPo.

Just be WaPo. You are good at that.

No RED X on my pages.

The loading delays of the Facebook offering are a significant distraction to browsing satisfaction. Not to mention the dribble it offers. Enough is enough.

Posted by: wovose | April 24, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

This is tied in with my dislike of the "upload your email address book" prompt at Facebook. (I would never betray my acquaintances' privacy in that manner.) Facebook feels no such decent compunction. I would urge anyone confronted with that to think before agreeing.

Also the developers have a lot of hubris in believing they can read my mind. Google can't, and Facebook programming is laughably kludgy and near-hostile to the user. I have zero faith they will "enhance" my user experience.

I actually opted in to the Pandora offering as I recommend it, and my personal programming offerings, to friends. As far as I can tell, however, none can actually see this on my Facebook page. More incomprehensible failure on their part.

Posted by: Jumper1 | April 25, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I've been on the receiving end of the "uplaod your address book" by Facebook members. I deleted every one and...still get emails monthly to remind me of how many folks have "invited" me to join FB...drek.

Posted by: tbva | April 25, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm just dreading the point in time where I will virtually be forced to join Facebook. I've been able to keep my Internet profile manageable to this point. Once I join Facebook, any semblance of Internet privacy is gone.

Posted by: slar | April 26, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

I'm a Web junkie and participate in several special interest forums but have resisted the idea and invitations from friends to jojn Facebook and other sites. I'm also a subscriber to the print edition of the WP since the beginning of time.

I do not like what I see in the evolution of the WP print edition (though I understand that times are tough), and this latest development tells me that my caution about Facebook has been well-placed.

Posted by: Arlington4 | April 26, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

I found the privacy settings do nothing for the Like button or sidebar newsfeed. However, logging out of Facebook pretty much cleans it up. And, yes, I would Like a Dislike button for various reasons. :)

Posted by: davezatz | April 26, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

jxy123:

The unique visitors metric really just measures the effectiveness of a headline, or how many read an author by habit.

People who have the time or interest to comment on an article are just a tiny, tiny minority.

So, that's why the quick Like/Dislike type buttons are valuable to authors -- it doesn't require a lot of time to register an opinion.

All of these are valuable metrics, which is exactly what Rob said, and you purposefully distorted his words.

Posted by: Pollux | April 26, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Like dwsmall, I haven't joined Facebook and probably won't. Similar to my experience with Google (I use ixquick as my search engine), too much information!

Posted by: scubatankman | April 27, 2010 5:30 AM | Report abuse

I'm with the leave facebook over this crowd. Make it opt-out by default and stop changing things all the time.

Posted by: ajbouche | April 27, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

I do not, nor will I ever, subscribe to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and etc., for the same reason I avoid Google products, web mail, and cloud computing.

Posted by: ChrisBrown11 | April 27, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I think this social networking thing has gone too far. I don't want FB to know where I go and then sell that info others who will try to sell me something through "targeted ads", and then sell my info to someone else. There aren't enough hours in the day to read everyone's privacy policies. And it doesn't really matter what it says today - it will say something different the next. Guaranteed.

These changes are ruining both FB and the Post
website for me. OPT OUT should be the default for EVERYTHING. And FYI: I still see no "x" to close the FB box on WP.com.

Posted by: timmdrumm | April 27, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

Opt-out and probably a step closer to closing my Facebook account. What I get out of Facebook just isn't worth having to go in and change privacy settings every time they find a new way to try to sell my information.

Operating on the internet these days is all about finding a balance between security/privacy and convenience, usability, and all the other good jazz you can get out various web applications and sites. Facebook has just crossed the line way too many times for me to trust them with private info.

Posted by: jlowery1 | April 27, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Facebook is useful and convenient, but it is not oxygen. I don't need it to survive. I didn't opt out of the Facebook connection to the Washington Post. Instead, I opted out of Facebook altogether.

Posted by: eldonado | April 27, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

I have been a Facebook (FB) user since 4/04 when I was a fourth year undergrad. I loved how it allowed me to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances, family, share photos, updates, etc. I had 690 friends on FB.

But this announcement last week is too much. I understand how to update my privacy settings to opt out of this new feature, but I have two issues with this new announcement that are deal breakers for me:

1. The fact that everyone is automatically opted in by default.
2. The fact that there was no discernible way to prevent my "friends" from sharing data about me on those services.

So I deleted my Facebook account. Also, the fact that FB forces you to give a reason for deleting your account and then has a pop up explaining why that's a bad reason is also troublesome. The fact that they're still holding on to my data is also troubling.

Posted by: royruhling | April 27, 2010 8:55 PM | Report abuse

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