Facebook's New Features and Your Privacy: What You Need To Know

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Facebook's New Features and Privacy: Everything You Need To Know
Facebook is about to get a lot more personal and dig deeper into you and your friends' likes, dislikes, and what you do online. This week at a Facebook developers conference called F8, the company pulled the curtain back on some very cool and soon to be available features.

What follows is an overview of what those new features are and how these features will impact your privacy. First, I'll start with five new Facebook features debuted this week.

Five New Facebook Features

Social bar plugin: This is a persistent bar similar to what you see at the bottom of your Facebook page right now. The bar sits at the bottom of the Webpage you are visiting, and includes Facebook features such as Facebook chat. This feature has not been released yet.

Like button s: There are two types of Like buttons that are very similar to each other, but handle different items you'll come across online. Actual ‘Like' buttons are meant for real-world items such as your favorite sports team or movie, while ‘Recommend' buttons are for Web content such as news articles and videos on news sites.

Whenever you visit a site such as CNN you will start to see ‘Recommend' buttons next to videos and articles listing how many Facebook users have recommended the item you are viewing. If you are logged in to Facebook you will also be able to see if any of your friends have recommended that news item, and then recommend the article yourself if you want to. Whenever you recommend something on CNN or other sites with a recommend button, a notification will be sent to your Facebook newsfeed that includes a link back to the CNN article.

The ‘like' button works similarly to the ‘recommend' button. But whenever you ‘like' an item such as your favorite sports team or movie, the like not only appears in your newsfeed but also gets placed in your ‘Likes and Interests' section under the ‘Info' tab of your Facebook profile.

Recommend ation plugin: Not to be confused with the ‘Recommend' button, this browser plugin shows you a box with the top ‘likes' on the site from all Facebook users as well as recommendations and likes from your Facebook friends. You must be logged in to Facebook to see recommendations from your friend.

Activity stream plugin: Similar to the recommendations plugin, when you are logged in to Facebook and visit a site with the activity stream plugin, a mini-Facebook Newsfeed will appear showing you all the recommendations and likes your friends have taken on the site. If you are logged in to Facebook, and you can see an example of the activity stream plugin on CNN.com.

Facebook login plugin: If you are logged in to Facebook, you will see the profile photos of your Facebook friends that have signed up to become members of the site you are visiting, as well as a link to sign up for the site using your Facebook login.

Instant Personalization: If you are logged in to Facebook and visit Yelp, Docs.com or Pandora, the site will be able to help you find information you may want to see, based on data that gets pulled from your publicly available Facebook profile information. Pandora, for example, would be able to look at your favorite music listings on your Facebook profile and deliver music selections to you based on that information.

Facebook's new features are making it easier to build your Facebook profile and share online articles and other items with your friends. But like anything Facebook-related there are some serious privacy implications to consider. Here are a few of the most important things you need to know.

How Websites handle your data

Before we discuss these new features, let's look at how third-party Websites are allowed to handle your personal Facebook data. Before this week's announcements, whenever you signed in to a third-party Website such as Colbert Nation or NBC.com using your Facebook login credentials, those external Websites were allowed to store your Facebook data for only 24 hours. Facebook recently changed that requirement, and now those Websites can store your Facebook data indefinitely.

That sounds scary, what does that mean?

When you log in to a Website using your Facebook account that site can access the following pieces of information from your Facebook profile: your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, likes and interests, and your fan pages (according to recent revisions to Facebook's privacy policy your fan pages, likes and interests, current city, networks and friend list are now lumped into one category called ‘connections').

Graphic: Lou Beach
After you log in, the third-party site can also access any other Facebook information you've made public, and if the site needs more information about you that isn't public it can ask you for it-although you don't have to approve it. As I mentioned above, under the old policy, a Website could only hold your data for 24 hours, but under the new rules all that information can be kept indefinitely by any Website you connect with using Facebook.

Now don't freak out about this too much, because site developers are still bound by Facebook's rules telling them what they are allowed to do with your data--you can read about it in Section 9 on this Webpage. Basically, Facebook's rules state that a third-party Website cannot sell your data or do much more than use it in relation to your Facebook account.

Facebook also says it monitors external sites to make sure they are using your data appropriately. But Facebook also states right in its privacy policy that the social network does not "guarantee that [third parties] will follow [Facebook's] rules" in regards to how your data is supposed to stored and handled.

To be fair that statement is probably a legal safety valve designed to protect Facebook from a privacy scandal, but it also appears there's not much stopping a rogue site from using your data inappropriately. Is that likely to happen? Maybe not, but this new data storage policy serves as a reminder that you should always consider whether you trust a particular site before giving it access to your Facebook data.

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