MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The social media megalopolis that is Facebook is upsetting some of its denizens this week. Facebook rolled out a new program to connect users with businesses and other interests that may want access to information about likes and dislikes, friends of friends, and other odds and ends. Many people see this as an invasion of privacy and want to know how to opt out.
Well, we've brought in Andy Carvin. He tracks social media here at NPR and he's going to help us out with this. Welcome to the studio.
ANDY CARVIN: Thanks for having me.
NORRIS: So, first, what is it that Facebook has done this week and why did they make this change?
CARVIN: Well, for a long time, people would use Facebook simply for networking with friends and family and colleagues, and you'd share certain things, such as websites youd like, music you liked. You'd talk about different things that were going on in the world, and it was generally considered you'd be talking among yourselves.
But what Facebook has done is they've started revealing a large chunk of this information to the entire world. So, for example, if you went to a news website and decided that you liked a particular article and you wanted to acknowledge that on your Facebook profile, or you liked a new book that came out, that would now be very, very public. And so, some of the partners Facebook launch with, when you go to their websites now, it'll show you all of your friends who have liked certain things on their website.
It doesn't matter if you've gone to Washington Post before, for example, or yelp.com. When you go see it now, even without having to sign it, it's suddenly showing you all of your friends' Facebook activities and they would see the same thing of you, as well.
And so on the one hand, it's seen as an interesting way to get a feel for what all your friends are doing, but it's also creeping out a lot of folks who weren't expecting it and raising a lot of privacy questions.
NORRIS: It feels like eavesdropping.
CARVIN: A bit of eavesdropping, even though people on Facebook have shared information with each other for a long time. Facebook continues to peel things open further and further and further, and often without much warning to people. And one of the big complaints a lot of folks have had, including several members of the Senate, is that there isn't a way to opt in. Instead, it's automatic. It's happening for you immediately, and...
NORRIS: And there's no notice.
CARVIN: There's no real notice except when you go to Facebook, and it said, oh, by the way, we changed the privacy rules. So you now have to go and opt out of it manually, and if you don't take that step manually, all of this stuff is going to be out there in the ether.
NORRIS: So businesses ideally might get better information. Facebook gets money out of this deal?
CARVIN: Well, over time they certainly will because what they're doing is monetizing all the things that a person likes, all the relationships they have, all the activities they do, and that's worth a lot of money to marketers.
NORRIS: So a little bit of news that you can use. If you do decide that you want to opt out of this, how do you do it?
CARVIN: What you want to do is the next time you're on the Facebook homepage, click that button in the top right corner where it says account, and there's a little drop-down menu that'll appear, and one of the items will be privacy settings. Just go in there and poke around and it'll explain to you, hopefully in plain English, what you need to do.
Meanwhile, a number of the sites that they've partnered with, when you go there for the first time, there will be a notice at the top of the page, telling you that they've done this, and it'll have directions on how to opt out, as well.
NORRIS: Andy, I understand that you're going to have information on our website on how people can actually opt out, a little bit more information if they didn't understand here. You can go to our website at npr.org.
CARVIN: Yes, npr.org. Go to our blog, All Tech Considered, and we'll have it all laid out for you.
NORRIS: Perfect. Andy Carvin tracks social media for us here at npr.org.