We’re probably being too kind to Facebook, and, in particular, to the third party applications that plug into it. They’re abusing user trust and committing sins we castigate others for, so we should be consistent: Many Facebook applications are spam.
Take this one, for example, illustrated above. It’s called ATTACK! and upon accepting an invitation from someone the screenshot above (reduced for privacy reasons) is the first page you see. You’re encouraged to invite friends:
To make it easier for you, the first 10 friends on your alphabetical list have already been selected (what it must be like to be called something like Adam), and the only button available is the big blue one that says:
There are, as far as I can see, no alternative buttons. No options to just skip the inviting part, or to unselect the existing friends, meaning you’ve got to unselect the ten manually. If you do that and then click the blue button you get another message:
And the ten are selected again. Hang on a minute; wasn’t I invited by someone else to play this game? (Laying aside, for a moment, why I would be playing a game during work hours of dubious intellectual or work-related relevance.) Why can’t I just accept his invitation and start playing?
By now I’ve forgotten who invited me and the invitation has disappeared. So has my enthusiasm for playing the game. Or having anything to do with Facebook applications.
To be fair, quite a few friends seem to love these things. What troubles me is that if these applications are so cavalier with well-established norms of non-spamming etiquette, how cavalier are they with our personal data? Remember every third party application requires the user to select this box:
without ever going into detail about which information. All my information? Just a bit of information? Facebook has a lot of my information — not as much information as it used to, because I deleted a lot of it in a moment of panic (beware if you remove the fact that you’re married from your personal information, as you’ll get messages from people as they see in their status feed a broken heart icon and the words “Jeremy Wagstaff is no longer married” broadcast to all your friends. It is, however, a good way to find out what people really think of your marriage.)
So who is behind ATTACK!? Who are we giving that information to? Well, it seems to belong to a company called Presidio Media LLC. I say “seems” because there is no link to a company web page; the copyright sign includes that company’s name, which also seems to be responsible for games of Poker, Blackjack and Lotto. The company website, however, is empty, and I can’t find any registration information. There are three email addresses on the Facebook page, suggesting from their email addresses that they’re behind tribe.net, a social networking site.
Given Facebook has enjoyed huge popularity with what I would call social networking virgins — those who have not previously explored this online wonderworld of sharing information — I am, like some party pooper, troubled by the implications, even as we all frolic in this newfound social whirl.
But it’s probably just me. Anyway, whoever invited me to play ATTACK!: sorry. Let’s do it offline in the pub.