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80,259 News Articles

How much is your Facebook profile worth?

How third parties turn your data into cash

The personal information that you willingly (or unwittingly) give to Facebook can be invaluable to its partners, who slice and dice the data to rake in hundreds. We find out just who's looking at and earning from your personal information.

Facebook's Instant Personalisation partners

One day in April, registered users of Pandora and Facebook launched their favourite online radio station on Pandora's site and discovered that they could now see which of their Facebook friends liked the artists and songs they were hearing.

For that to happen, the users either purposely or accidentally passed by the opt-out bar for Facebook's Instant Personalisation Pilot Program, for which Pandora, Yelp, and Microsoft were launch partners. The same thing happened to readers of MSNBC, who were surprised to find information on stories recommended by their Facebook friends pop up on the news website.

Instant Personalisation allows selected Facebook partner websites to access your data and tailor content to your tastes. With Instant Personalisation activated, your Facebook information is available for access the moment you arrive on partner sites. When the programme launched in April, Facebook automatically activated it for all users. However, a privacy uproar forced the company to revise its policy, and Instant Personalisation is now optional for users.

"A number of people have reported to me that this feels a little weird to them," says Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, about Pandora's Instant Personalisation implementation. Pandora declined to be interviewed for this story.

How Instant Personalisation works

The implications of Instant Personalisation are more serious than your discovering your boss's love for '80s boy bands. Partner sites can work with Facebook to learn a whole more about you than what you may have told them directly.

According to Peter Eckersley, senior staff technologist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Instant Personalisation partner sites use JavaScript code and Ajax calls to get personally identifying information about you from Facebook. So if you already had an account on the Instant Personalisation partner site, that site can now see your Facebook information and your existing account information at the same time.

"[The Facebook partner sites] would see the usual cookie that they set in your browser, and the one that Facebook's API constructs using Ajax, simultaneously," says Eckersley. "The design of the Facebook API clearly anticipates that the website will do this."

NEXT PAGE: Application developers

  1. Introduction
  2. Facebook's instant personalisation partners
  3. Application developers
  4. Hackers and worms
  5. Marketers and advertisers

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