zynga – Stay N Alive

Forget Facebook and MySpace – Wall Street Journal Shares Your Information Too

It seems like every other day Wall Street Journal is talking about some other Social Networking site that is revealing all your information to 3rd party advertisers.  First they talked about Facebook and the fact that their apps like Zynga’s Farmville are revealing personal data about users to advertisers.  Next, they created, then deleted, then re-created a MySpace story about the same thing that MySpace is doing for their users.  The thing is, this is a practice any site that collects your data is doing, and their Privacy Policies protect them from doing so (You do read the Privacy Policies of the sites you visit, right?  Neither do I).  In fact, even wsj.com is doing this, despite their hypocritical claims of this being an issue for so many other sites.

In some criticism I offered on this very issue, the @wsj Twitter account responded, “@Jesse To partially answer your question, we disclosed the trackers on WSJ.com here: http://on.wsj.com/d67Z3b“.  Wait – what?  So WSJ is basically admitting to sharing your information with advertisers?  I’m not sure where they link to this on their site, but they do link to their Privacy Policy, which, in very vague terms hints at the same type of information.

According to WSJ.com’s own article, “Here is a summary of what information WSJ.com says it collects about users, what it does with the data, and how long it keeps it.”  Let’s start by going over, according to their site, what wsj.com stores about you:

Information about you

According to WSJ, they do collect your browsing information, but all browsing and search data is kept anonymous.  However, they do collect “Files and Communications”.  I assume this means the comments you make and any profile data you store on their system.  Remember, WSJ is paywalled – that means they require your personally identifying information, just like Facebook, to identify who you are, collect your profile image, etc. and all that is stored on their servers.

Information volunteered by you

According to WSJ, assuming you enter it, they do store demographic and financial data about their users.  Facebook and MySpace also do this in various capacities, also optional (gender is required on Facebook though).  Keep in mind that in order to read a lot of the site, you have to have a paid account to do so, so I’m curious how many of their users all have provided their financial information to wsj.com

What does this mean?

Sure, WSJ stores information about its users – so what?  That’s not the problem.  You store your information on Facebook and MySpace as well, but what wsj.com is complaining about is the fact that Facebook and MySpace are allowing other services to share their users’ data with others.  The thing is, WSJ goes on to share that they do exactly the same thing:

How WSJ Manages your information

According to WSJ, they do allow outside trackers, aka advertisers, to collect your data – they do provide a link to opt out of some of those trackers (note the “some”).  Specifically, WSJ even quotes, “We may combine the information that we collect from you with information that you provide to us in connection with your use of other Dow Jones products, services and web sites, or information we collect from third parties.”  So, basically, WSJ is sharing your information with their partners as well, and, according to their Privacy Policy, those sites can also take that information and share with 3rd party sites.  In fact, they state that they don’t even disclose when they delete that data!

So how is this different than Facebook and MySpace?

The fact is, it’s not.  In fact, if anything is different it’s that WSJ.com has the ability, legally, to share even more information about its users with 3rd parties than Facebook is legally obligated to.  For some trackers WSJ even admits they don’t have an opt-out.  Per Facebook’s privacy policy, Facebook is bound by the privacy settings of each user.  The very minimum amount that Facebook can share, without your permission, is your name, your city, your gender, and the same for your friends – that’s all!  It should also be noted that Facebook wasn’t even explicitly allowing developers to share this data with 3rd party advertisers.  Most of the developers were just placing the Facebook IDs in their URLs in order to identify Facebook users, and advertisers were taking the referring URL to take this information, a common practice across the entire web (albeit not able to do much with it).

So why all the hype by WSJ?  Are they looking to get us all upset and riled up to generate clicks and views?  It certainly has gotten people talking to the point that even my local TV station contacted me for an interview about it.  The fact is, everyone does this, especially WSJ, and WSJ isn’t telling the entire story.  In fact, after this hoopla, Facebook actually pulled the accounts that were doing this, and has since put out a notice that they are working to now encrypt these ids, making them even more private in what they share with 3rd parties than WSJ itself!

I think WSJ owes Facebook an apology here.  They’re hiding behind their own ignorance and someone needs to be talking about this.

What do you think?  What other information is WSJ sharing that readers need to be aware of?

Mark Zuckerberg – A Cheater? A Stealer? I’m Calling Calacanis’ Bluff

Mark ZuckerbergI give – I call.  I’m getting really tired over all the “I’m deleting my Facebook because they have gone corrupt” posts all over the place.  Some of the smartest minds in the industry (and those I respect most) are all doing it, even Leo Laporte, and it’s breaking my heart.  I don’t understand how any of these people can talk about Facebook with any grain of salt after this without some level of bias.  How can you talk legibly about Facebook from here on out if you’re not using the service?  How can you know how to compete properly if you’re not using your competitors’ products (ahem, Matt Cutts)?  How can you know whom to invest in unless you’re truly trying out all the biggest players in the game?  It doesn’t make sense to me.

Jason Calacanis wrote a scathing letter to his e-mail list today just ripping apart Mark Zuckerberg, coining a term I’m not sure I want to repeat here since it’s almost a curse word (okay, he coined the term, “Zucked”).  He called Zuckerberg a liar, a cheater, a backstabber, and even inferred he had Asperger’s-like tendencies (which anyone who has or knows someone with Asperger’s should be offended).  According to Calacanis:

“Zuckerberg represents the best and worst aspects of entrepreneurship.
His drive, skill and fearlessness are only matched by his long
record–recorded in lawsuit after lawsuit–of backstabbing, stealing
and cheating.”

I’ve heard elsewhere Zuckerberg compared to a Nazi, and other Facebook employees all “drinking the Kool-Aid” they were being served there.  I’ve been called names myself for supporting them.  I really feel bad for those at Facebook right now – quite honestly, as a company, despite their audience, they’re not that big!  Bullying them certainly isn’t going to help.

Let’s address the Zynga issue that Calacanis seems to be basing much of his letter on (the reason Calacanis calls Zuckerberg a liar and stealer).  As a Facebook developer myself, and having addressed, consulted and discussed with many very successful Facebook developers as both a consultant and author of Facebook development books (see the upper-right, and a Dummies book on the way), I’ve seen the pain of many, much more than just Zynga, that have been affected by what Calacanis is talking about.  Zynga is the last of the successful Facebook.com developers that managed to make millions by building applications on top of Facebook.com itself.  I know one  developer that went from 0 to 2 million users in just a couple weeks in the early days of Facebook.com – it was a mad GoldRush!

The problem, however is that none of these developers adapted.  Facebook gave them all the tools they needed to adapt and move outside the platform, and I’ve seen very few actually take Facebook up on that offer.  Facebook gave the hints that they were pushing in that direction and no one followed.  Zynga is just now realizing that as they build their own website – it’s the smart thing to do, and Facebook hasn’t abandoned them in the process.  Facebook, in fact, has pushed Zynga in that direction, offering tools, plugins, protocols, and many other ways of building outside the Facebook platform, while still enabling them to maintain their existing user base on Zynga.com itself.  Zynga’s finally doing the smart thing here, and Facebook wants that to happen!

The crazy thing here is Zynga probably has one of the closest relationships with Facebook of any Facebook developer I know.  Sure, Facebook is trying to make money off of what Zynga does in their own environment, but can you blame them?  It’s Facebook’s own environment.  They have every right to control their own IP, and every developer on the platform should know that by now – I’ve written about it many times.  Every company needs a core. I’m a little jealous of the relationship Zynga has built with Facebook though – there is no reason to feel bad for them.  And they’re now working on their own core as Facebook helps them through that process.  I don’t see anyone lying, cheating, or stealing from anyone here.  Is Facebook supposed to be giving their IP away?  I don’t get it.

Now let’s talk privacy.  Were you aware that Facebook actually gives users a chance to debate privacy policy changes when they go into place?  For every change to Facebook’s terms that goes into place, users have the opportunity to complain, react, and share their feelings in whatever manner they feel necessary about new changes put into place.  The November policy changes (which were probably the biggest recent change) were proposed here (if you really have problems with the Privacy changes you really should subscribe to the updates, that is, unless you’re no longer a Facebook user):

“Facebook has proposed an updated privacy policy. We encourage you to view the proposal and offer your comments here <http://www.facebook.com/fbsitegovernance?v=app_4949752878> by 12:00 PM PDT on November 5, 2009. For future policy updates, become a fan of the Facebook Site Governance Page.”

When this was proposed, users were overwhelmingly for the changes.  Comments were overwhelmingly in a positive tone, resulting in the changes being adopted.  Had users complained back then, the changes would not have gone into place.  This is actually the same process that got Beacon reversed.  New changes were again proposed on March 26, shortly before F8, when the OpenGraph initiative was announced.  Users again overwhelmingly supported the changes, and on April 22, the new changes were accepted.  It was on April 23 that Matt Cutts, and others deleted their Facebook accounts – I’m very curious if they even tried to make their concerns known on the Site Governance site.  It should also be noted that Facebook issued press releases for each of these proposed updates – Mashable covered it.  ReadWriteWeb covered it.  So did TechCrunch, in vivid detail.

So I don’t get it – Facebook is opening up more than they have ever before (despite these same people calling them a Walled Garden before).  They’re the only site out there with a policy in place that actually lets users vote on privacy and policy changes.  They’re the only site out there with the ability to provide any level of granularity towards privacy (did you know you can specify specific groups, exclude specific individuals and groups, and get very specific with exactly who sees your status updates on Facebook?  That’s only the beginning.).  Facebook seems to be making all the right moves, yet they’re Nazis.  They’re liars.  They’re cheaters.  They’re stealers.  All this doesn’t compute!  I don’t see Google doing any of this.  And talk about taking developers out of business – Google’s the biggest culprit of all!

I’m sorry Jason, but calling names isn’t how you win Poker either.  It’s time we start encouraging Facebook’s moves, hoping they continue this momentum to become more open.  It’s time we start educating users that they get to vote on this stuff before it goes live (which they did!).  It’s time we start helping to get the word out to users on what is private and what is not in their Facebook accounts now that the changes have gone into place.

I’m sorry, but I’m getting sick of all the bloggers and so-called “experts” complaining about this when they didn’t do anything to stop it in the first place.  This, especially, when we’re given so many options!  Right now they’re all starting to sound like a bunch of complainers to me.  Am I really the only one that sees this?  I feel like I’m the only one writing about it.  Maybe it’s time I fold, or is everyone else just bluffing?