Social graphing, privacy & security on the web

I’ve had a half-written draft version of this post for about 6 weeks, in which time the landscape has shifted massively. For instance Facebook have changed their privacy policies (again) and completely changed their “Connect” system. Also Jason Calacanis has written his Zuckerpunch piece slating Facebook and the reasons & ethics behind what they are doing.

Just to set things straight from the outset here, I’m a web-developer currently – amongst many other things – building a couple of sites that will interact with social networks.I love the social and integrated direction that the web is currently heading in, and am intrigued by the possibilities of social graphing.

But I also have a thing about privacy – I like to choose what I share and with whom, and what I keep private.  As well as having Twitter / LinkedIn / FourSquare / blogging accounts I do have a Facebook profile to which I upload the occasional photo, change my status & interact with friends. But personally, I never “connect” with Facebook from external sites, or “like” other sites or pages. If I like something and want to share it I’ll tell people directly.

However, the sites I’m involved with building at the moment will have the ability to “Connect with Facebook”, and not because I like the system, but because other people do and find it convenient to have a shared login for numerous sites.  I’m also not blind to the fact that if people talk about my sites on Facebook it will improve visibility and traction.

In a way, Facebook is showing us a glimpse of the future, and I have no doubt that being able to have your online “social” identity and network seamlessly integrate into a whole variety of different web-apps is A Good Thing. Personally though, I’d rather that the hub of my online identity was not tied irreversibly to one specific central system, especially if that system has scant regard for its users’ privacy rights and security.

So whilst Facebook might be showing us a glimpse of the future, I hope that Facebook – as it stands – isn’t the future.

Right now I think there’s a lot of space in the online social market, and I hope that people with integrity are able to grasp the opportunities and make the most of it. Ironically, one of the best places to advertise any new network will be Facebook!

This is very much a case of “watch this space”. The open-social-graph vs privacy war is just warming up, and there’s plenty of space for heroes and villains, victors and casualties.