Facebook says new program to automatically share data 'has nothing to do' with ads

Tucked into Facebook’s new proposed privacy policy released yesterday was a paragraph saying the social network will automatically share your data with special “pre-approved” partners when you visit their sites. But no partners were listed, nor was there any detail given on how these partners would be chosen.

I talked to Barry Schnitt, Facebook’s director of communications and public policy, today to get a few more details. More broadly speaking, Facebook has always had an inherent tension in its business model. On the one hand, it must earn user trust so that people will share honestly about themselves. On the other hand is a multi-billion dollar market opportunity in targeted advertising based on what people share.

Sometimes these two interests work hand in hand for the benefit of the user. But they often come into conflict, notably with the Beacon controversy in 2007 and with Facebook’s privacy change in December, which made details like user names and friend lists public information.

[Update: Facebook is asking for user comments on the new policies here. As of today, the company has received 132 comments on this part of the new privacy policy.]

VentureBeat: How are these partners going to be chosen?

Barry Schnitt: I can’t really say at this point. We’re in a weird and unique situation where we have to talk about products and programs that haven’t even launched yet.

We’re talking to a lot of people. We’re looking for potentially trusted partners where it might make sense for an immediate experience. I can’t really say much more than that.

Most people are thinking about this in the wrong way. The way you should be thinking about it is — think about Facebook Connect, but the user gets that experience when they arrive at the site rather than after clicking Connect.

VB: Is there a financial relationship between these partners and Facebook in this program?

Schnitt: No, there isn’t.

VB: Are they existing advertisers? Brands? Or publishers?

Schnitt: I can’t give you any more detail. It’s not vertically driven. I think the really important thing to stress is that this has nothing to do with advertising. This is about extending Facebook’s platform in a unique way when people arrive. This is not about driving any data for advertising. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s like Connect. There’s nothing you can really do with advertising through Connect.

VB: But doesn’t it pass user details like your name and profile photos that could make it easier for ad targeting?

Schnitt: Again, this is weird limboland. if you think about what happened with location in the privacy policy. We had this really great idea for location. We had one idea about a product six months ago and thought that that was the way we wanted to go. But we changed. It’s still very premature. That’s the line I’m trying to draw here.

But because of the process we’ve committed to [in soliciting user input on privacy policies], we have to do this a little bit backward. I’m not trying to obfuscate things. This is a unique process for us and the Internet.

VB: What kinds of litmus tests might a potential partner have to pass in terms of data security and privacy?

Schnitt: There are lots of things we’re looking for — sites that are known to us, that we feel we trust, but I can’t get into those right now.

VB: How will the opt-out look?

Schnitt: The opt-out hasn’t been built yet. We just want people to know they’ll be able to opt out. We’ve made that commitment. There will be an opt-out right when the user gets to the site, and there will be some opt-out functionality on Facebook. But as to where the button will be or how it will look, I don’t know, because they don’t exist right now.


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