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Is Facebook Connect A Useful Tool Or A Totalitarian Plot?

Facebook, the popular social media and networking site, is aggressively rolling out its sign-in tool to let other content providers -- CBS, most recently -- exploit the technology to let visitors seamlessly move their logged-in identities across sites.
Facebook, the popular social media and networking site, is aggressively rolling out its sign-in tool to let other content providers -- CBS, most recently -- exploit the technology to let visitors seamlessly move their logged-in identities across sites.The Internet is a funny place, for lots of reasons, and identity is one of them.

There are certain activities that require near-total revelation of self and personal information, at least in the financial sphere. Such is the prepayment required to actually buy stuff online.

The other extreme is all of the, er, activities that are best realized anonymously. Much of what has driven Internet usage, and the utilization of social media platforms other than Facebook, has relied on individuals revealing as little about themselves as they wished. For instance, most blog and forum posts wouldn't see the light of debate if they were trackable back to the real-life commentators behind them.

The Facebook Connect standard, like others such as OpenID, represents an emergent trend somewhere up the middle between these two extremes. The idea is that by signing up to one of the standards, you could then automatically get recognized by participating sites and services, thereby obviating the need to sign in again with a user name and password. So people would know who you are (somewhat), even if that didn't include your credit card number.

Three cheers for convenience (I can never remember all of my sign-in combos), and also for the emergence of Internet experiences defined (at least somewhat) by actual and accountable identities. Lots of Internet behavior will change if we have something like our names attached to it, and that's a good thing.

The flip side is that Facebook becomes the owner of those behavioral reports, and will thus be able to monetize its knowledge about where and what you do for the benefit of advertisers and services developers. With ISPs tracking user behavior at the front end, and services like Facebook Connect monitoring the substance of what users do on the sites they visit, and you can see an authoritarian trend that is somewhat scary.

So do we enslave ourselves when we identify ourselves? Maybe the truth won't set us free?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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