Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Virality? Viralness? Virosity?

I've become slightly creeped out by the viral nature of social networks, specifically, Facebook and it's apps.

Earlier this year, Facebook opened up it's platform for application development by third parties, which has created an avalanche of third party applications. Lately, I've been wondering what the heck the benefit is to a company to run n X vs. Y, advanced functionality app, "send your friend a virtual drink" app, etc.

What started my discomfort was "Likeness." The app has you answer some simple ordering quizzes (I think the one I answered was "what super powers did you wish you had?"), then tells you how similar you are to your friends who have also taken the quiz. The problem was that the results of this application were taking over my "news about friends" list of stories, masking things I might actually care about. I looked for a way to eliminate those results, but couldn't find one. Finally, I just removed the app.

What's put me over the edge is "SuperPoke!" It adds an interesting feature, "X has performed action Y on you" or some variant. But then it gets creepy. You can unlock more actions with by performing actions on your friends, which encourages you to use the app. It also provides a way to perform an action en-mass upon your friends list, or 10 random friends, or specific groups of friends, including ones who don't have SuperPoke! yet. So it spreads virally by adding an interesting feature and encouraging you to expose it to people who don't have it.

But why do all that in the first place? I might be paranoid, but does it have something to do with access my private information? I looked at my privacy settings, and there doesn't seem to be a way to mask my info from the application. I removed it and tried to add it without giving access to my personal information. No go. It's mandatory to get and use an application.

So I read the actual platform application terms of use, and found out what they're sharing:

your name, your profile picture, your gender, your birthday, your hometown location (city/state/country), your current location (city/state/country), your political view, your activities, your interests, your musical preferences, television shows in which you are interested, movies in which you are interested, books in which you are interested, your favorite quotes, the text of your "About Me" section, your relationship status, your dating interests, your relationship interests, your summer plans, your Facebook user network affiliations, your education history, your work history, your course information, copies of photos in your Facebook Site photo albums, metadata associated with your Facebook Site photo albums (e.g., time of upload, album name, comments on your photos, etc.), the total number of messages sent and/or received by you, the total number of unread messages in your Facebook in-box, the total number of "pokes" you have sent and/or received, the total number of wall posts on your Wall™, a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook friends, your social timeline, and events associated with your Facebook profile.
Yikes. Creepy. So they're mapping my social network, then keeping stats on our interactions via their own app, and additional mapping via photo metadata (who's in the photo)? Very creepy. I think I might remove all third party apps.


  1. Excellent post, it should go viral!

    Plus, you got a #1 result in Google for viralness!

  2. Viralness! Ha!

    I'm trying to think of a contextual way to use the word "virulent" but am failing. Damn.