Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Frictionless sharing" - Isn't that oxymoron?

Last month I wrote about Facebook Social Reader.  It's also known to implement "frictionless sharing".

I talked about what it means for publishers and marketers.  It is a great tool to keep track of who's reading what, and how contents spread through open social graph.

But this has profound implication to readers (that's you!).  Let's stop and think about what it means to readers.

Facebook may end up repeating the history,
unless Social Reader privacy is addressed.
Looking someone else's shoulder to see what they are reading may not be a violation of privacy.  What about installing a camera above the magazine rack to track what people are reading?  What about recording every single magazines pulled and pages turned by individual reader and blasting on to the biggest social network to date?  Line between innocent glance and systematic privacy invasion is not a clear cut, but recording every reading habit by each reader definitely rings the alarm.  It is especially so if readers are not allowed to control their privacy level.

People go to cafe for a reason.  Because they want to be around people.  Everyone understands the concept of public place.  When we are in public place, we expect everything that we are doing can be seen by people around us, and we mind our manners (at least most of us would like to think that is the case).

Consider taking away the private space.  It means taking away the option of going home or being in a place where people don't have to worry about others watching them.  That is a clear privacy problem.  Especially if it is not clear whether you are in public or private space, this privacy problem becomes even worse.

That's what's happening with Social Reader.  Once opted into Social Reader, readers do not have easy option to control to switch between this frictionless way of sharing (public place with ceiling cameras on) and private reading (reading in privacy of your home).

There is another problem with this so-called frictionless sharing.  Sharing is meant to be an intentional act.  It's conscious decision by someone to partake the experience with someone else.  If it is not done consciously, people don't consider that as sharing.  It's called 'eavesdropping' or 'spying'.

There lies the problem.  For those people who don't understand what's happening, the best you can say about their experience is sense of betrayal.  Imagine how people will feel once they find out about all their reading habits plastered around your friend's wall.

For those who understand the lack of privacy, it is unlikely that they will exhibit the same behavior as they would normally do.  That is because those savvy users are aware of other people are watching, i.e. they are in public space.  At best they will read those materials that are acceptable for public to know, and at worst they will avoid that frictionless public space all together in fear of reading something that might be tracked.

Sharing is not meant to be frictionless because you have to give it a thought to think of appropriateness of content and who it might be most relevant to.

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