Facebook Bows to Canadian Privacy Concerns, Will Change The Way All Apps Access Social Data

Bowing to privacy concerns by Canada, Facebook is going to change the way all apps work on Facebook, particularly how they access user data. Facebook will be further fine-tuning its privacy controls. The biggest change will be how third party applications access a user’s personal data and that of his or her network of friends. Currently, when you install a Facebook app, you get a pop-up box which asks you to allow the third-party app to access personal information. Once you give permission, the app can work.

Now, the apps will have to ask repeatedly for permission as they request new types of information, and users will have to “specifically approve any access to their friends’ information.” What this amounts to is basically more privacy notifications explaining exactly what type of data is being shared and giving users more control over what they want to share. Facebook explains on its developer blog:

When users authorize an application, they will have the opportunity to opt out of giving certain pieces of information. There may be some fields that, at minimum, are necessary for the application to function. We will make it clear that the user must authorize the required fields in order to use the application. We also anticipate that users will need to opt-in to giving applications access to their friends’ data.

On a conference call today, Facebook senior platform manager Dave Morin noted, “We certainly think that good privacy is good business.” But there is also a tension between privacy controls and the smooth functioning of social apps which require access to the semi-private social data on Facebook in order to work properly.

Asked if these new polices would make it more likely for apps to break, Morin tried to downplay that possibility: “This change will not likely cause many applications to break per se, but cause users to more clearly understand what information they are sharing with the application.” Of course, if users decide to shut down access to key parts of their social data, many apps won’t work. But that, of course, is up to each user.

On the call, Facebook was also keen to point out how much privacy controls users already have when it comes to third party apps. Currently, users can block any app or authorize access to data at a very granular level. Although they didn’t say this in the call, I’d expect many of these controls to become more explicit.