Facebook wants to give media companies and marketers access to public posts on the social network as they happen.
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As Facebook users gravitate toward greater privacy, the company is pushing in the opposite direction in the hope of becoming more of a public platform like Twitter. The social network on Monday launched two new tools to help media companies analyze public Facebook posts and integrate them into online and broadcast content.
A limited number of media partners -- Buzzfeed, CNN, NBC's Today Show, BSkyB, Slate and Mass Relevance -- have been granted access to two new tools : the Keyword Insights API and the Public Feed API. The former aggregates the number of Facebook posts that mention a specific term within a set period of time, and can display anonymous aggregate sets of posts based on age, gender or location. The latter displays a realtime feed of keywords in public posts from accounts that have enabled the Follow setting.
Justin Osofsky, VP of media partnerships and online operations for Facebook, suggests that these APIs enable broadcasters like CNN to incorporate what people are saying about a topic in realtime into breaking news coverage and to assess how different demographic groups respond to current events.
But Facebook's data is not just for news organizations. It's also intended for advertisers. One of Facebook's launch partners is Mass Relevance, a social media marketing company.
Facebook hasn't committed to when it will make these APIs publicly available. It says it plans to extend access to additional partners in the coming weeks.
The new social media analytics tools are but the latest in a series of recent Facebook products designed to exploit publicly accessible user data. In June, the company introduced the ability to search posts by hashtag. That followed the December 2012 withdrawal of the ability to hide Facebook profiles from search and the subsequent introduction of Graph Search.
More recently, Facebook proposed changes to its policies that allow it to display users' names and profile pictures alongside advertisements without compensating the users. Facebook postponed that planned change last week after several privacy groups complained to the Federal Trade Commission.
Facebook in late 2011 settled a complaint brought by the FTC that the company "deceived consumers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public." The settlement bars Facebook from making further deceptive claims and requires user consent before implementing changes that alter the effect of user privacy settings.
As thorny as its regulatory entanglements may be, Facebook faces a more worrisome threat from users who have become uncomfortable with social sharing. Private data is much less valuable to Facebook than public data.
A study published in early 2012 by researchers at Polytechnic Institute of New York University found that Facebook users have become more focused on privacy than they were previously. The survey of 1.4 million Facebook user accounts found that in March 2010, just 17% of users made their friend lists private. But 15 months later, 53% of users choose to conceal their friend lists, with other categories of profile information becoming more likely to be private too. Computer science professor Keith Ross, who led the research, concluded that greater awareness of privacy issues and clearer privacy options encouraged Facebook users to do more to protect their privacy.
Research published in May by Pew Research indicates that the desire for privacy is particularly pronounced among teen Facebook users, an important demographic group for advertisers. Some 60% teens between the ages of 12 and 17 say they've made their Facebook profiles private while another 25% say they've opted to limit their profiles to friends of friends. Only 14% say they've elected to make their Facebook profiles completely public. For Twitter, it's the opposite: 64% of teens with Twitter accounts say that their tweets are public.
Expect Facebook to resemble Twitter more and more in the months ahead.