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Was Julian Assange Right About Facebook?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, September 26 2011

OK, that headline is probably over the top, but after reading Dave Winer and Nik Cubrilovic's warnings this past weekend about Facebook's new "frictionless sharing" system, I was left wondering if Julian Assange of WikiLeaks wasn't on to something when he said that "Facebook in particular is the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented."

Assange was talking about how Facebook collects information that people actively share about their relationships with each other (thus making such data prey to US intelligence prying), whereas Winer is raising the alarm about Facebook's new policy of proactively sharing information about what websites people are visiting, without them even affirmatively entering any kind of data onto their Facebook page. Winer offers this hypothetical scenario:

...just reading an article on [a] site may create an announcement on Facebook. Something like: 'Bull Mancuso just read a tutorial explaining how to kill a member of another crime family.' Bull didn't comment. He didn't press a Like button. He just visited a web page. And an announcement was made on his behalf to everyone who follows him on Facebook. Not just his friends, because now they have subscribers, who can be total strangers....There could easily be lawsuits, divorces, maybe even arrests based on what's made public by Facebook.

Cubrilovic builds on Winer's warning by demonstrating that even if you log out of Facebook, the site keeps tracking you. "The only solution," he writes, "is to delete every Facebook cookie in your browser, or to use a separate browser for Facebook interactions." This is hardly a tenable approach for most Facebook users, of course.

Could this be the tipping point--the moment when Facebook's force-marching of its users towards ever-increasing levels of personal transparency really backfires?