Are you letting all of facebook look over your shoulder as you read?

One of the latest types of apps that have emerged on Facebook are social news readers. These apps automatically post to your Facebook friends everything you read on the related news site. So for example, if you have installed the Washington Post Social Reader Facebook app, EVERYTHING you read on the Washington Post can appear in your facebook friends’ news feeds.

Here’s how my Washington Post reading activity showed up in Miriam’s Facebook news feed:

As viewed in Miriam's facebook news feed

Here’s how an aggregation of Miriam’s Facebook friends’ reading activity appears at the top of her news feed (how does it get to be at the top?!):

Facebook Social News Reader in Miriam's news feed

That hidden area on the right are thumbnails of Miriam’s friends next to articles they read.

Is this an example of the beauty of our online social lives, or is it an incredibly aggressive invasion of our privacy?

Social beauty

On the one hand, people get to easily share things they find interesting with their network. Instead of having to go into facebook, or use a social media management tool, to share the articles they like, the Washington Post does that for them. And isn’t that a lot of what we do on social networks?

Massive invasion of privacy

On the other hand, do you really want your Facebook friends seeing EVERYTHING you’re reading? Here are some examples of why this type of automatic sharing could work out badly:

  • You’re thinking of getting divorced, and are doing research on divorce laws or recent divorce cases.
  • You’re questioning your sexual orientation, and are reading up on what it means to be homosexual and come out of the closet.
  • You adore Justin Bieber and read every article about him. But that is best kept under wraps, isn’t it?

This is aside from the fact that you’re also giving these Facebook apps permission to access some of your details. And yes, apps are forever, if you let them be. Answer a questionnaire once about your knowledge of Sesame Street and two years later, that app is still viewing your information (unless you remove it of course, which I explain how to do below).

Also, if you install this app, you can’t see your own posts in your profile! Only your friends can. Which means you can’t remove anything from appearing there. Read an article about how to exorcise demons? It’s in your profile forever.

Massive social chutzpah

These social facebook news readers are clearly win-win for the news sites behind them. Their content gets wider exposure, and assumedly click-throughs. Except…if you see that your friend read an article and you’re interested in reading it too, and click on the article in your facebook news feed, you aren’t taken to the article! Instead, you arrive at the app installation page where it asks you to install it:

Washington Post Social Reader Facebook app

Washington Post Social Reader Facebook app installation page

I have to install an app to read your article? You want access to my name and birthday so I can read your stuff? Buh-bye.

We’re very curious… How many people are actually installing these apps in order to see the post? Being forced to add it in order to read an article must deter many. So by strong-arming us, the Washington Post is losing a lot of potential views. Also, you can’t like or comment on these posts, which removes the social aspect of this type of activity. But at least the Washington Post gets to dip directly into many facebook profiles!

Change your settings

So facebook users, beware! Installing an app gives the app owner direct access to lots of your personal information.

If you do install one of these news sharing facebook apps, note that you can change the settings, choosing who can see your posts from it and who can’t. Here is how to do it:

  1. Log in to Facebook. In the top right hand corner is a downward facing arrow. Click on it.
  2. Click on Account Settings.
  3. In the left-hand sidebar click on Apps.
  4. Click the Edit button next to the app you want to edit.

Then you’ll see the following:

Washington Post's app settings

It is recommended to once in a while go into your facebook settings and see what apps you’ve installed and remove whatever you don’t use or don’t recognize. You’ll be surprised what’s lurking there.

These facebook apps are sneaky too

Here is the kicker of the Washington Post Social Reader app. I did not sign up for it and suddenly it was there, sharing my reading habits with my network. I seriously don’t remember ever seeing that installation screen. Maybe I clicked on something to install it, but if I did it was not made clear to me at all.

Meanwhile, I had no idea that my reading activity was being shared with others until I looked over at Miriam’s screen (I happen to be Facebook friends with her) and saw this:

What the?!

Surprise Deena!

Wow! The Washington Post and I are BFFs and I didn’t even know it!

What do you think?

So you know what we think about this app but what do you think? Have you seen different news-feed apps that work differently than what I’ve described here? Would you, or do you, use an app of this kind?

Responses (2)

Andriy Blyznyuk

March 18, 2012 6:35 pm

Wow! never knew that! thank you for sharing this! I will go and check out my account settings now! :)

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