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Overblown and Outdated Warning - Facebook Instant Personalization

Message circulating on Facebook warns that between today and tomorrow, a new, automatically enabled, Facebook Privacy setting goes into effect that will share Facebook data with non Facebook websites.

Brief Analysis
Instant Personalization is real and has indeed raised some privacy concerns among Facebook users. However, it is not new, nor is it just about to be implemented. In fact, Instant Personalization was enabled back in April, 2010. It is untrue that friends will share YOUR information via Instant Personalization if they do not disable the service.

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Detailed analysis and references below example.

Last updated: 5th August 2011
First published: 5th August 2011
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer

Between today and tomorrow, New FB Privacy setting called "Inst Personalization" goes into effect. The new setting shares your data with non-FB sites & it is automatical to "Enabled". Go to Account>Privacy Settings>Apps & Websites>Instant Personalization>edit settings & uncheck "Enable". BTW If your friends don't do this, they will be sharing info about you a Please copy and repost..

Instant Personalization

Detailed Analysis
According to a warning message that is currently moving rapidly around Facebook, a new FB privacy setting called Instant Personalization is set to be enabled "between today and tomorrow". The message warns that the setting will be automatically enabled and, once implemented, will share your information with non-Facebook websites. The message describes how to disable the setting but further warns that if your friends do not also disable it, your information will still be shared via their accounts.

Instant Personalization is certainly real and its implementation has indeed raised privacy concerns for Facebook users. As discussed in more detail below, Instant Personalization allows some of your Facebook information to be shared with selected third party websites and was enabled by default when first implemented.

However, the claims in the warning message that Instant Personalization is "new" and will be switched on "between today and tomorrow" are simply untrue. In fact, Instant Personalization was first implemented to many users more than a year ago in April, 2010 and then gradually rolled out to other users in subsequent months.

It is also untrue that, if you disable Instant Personalization, your information will still be shared via Facebook friends who have not disabled it.

Thus, the validity of this message as a privacy warning is compromised because it is greatly outdated and contains misleading information.

So, what exactly is Instant Personalization? Instant Personalization is a feature that allows your experience to be personalized when visiting participating third party websites by bringing your public Facebook information with you. For example, if you visit movie review site "Rotten Tomatoes" while logged into Facebook, your experience will be personalized in that you can see which movies your Facebook friends have rated or reviewed and get movie recommendations based on movies you have previously "liked". At the time of writing, Facebook listed eight partner websites that were participating in the Instant Personalization service. When you first visit these partner sites, you are informed that Instant Personalization is active.

In its help files about the feature, Facebook clearly states what data is shared with Instant Personalization partner websites:
Instant personalization partners adhere to clear privacy guidelines and can only use your public information to offer you a more personalized experience. Public information includes your name, profile picture, gender, networks, friend list, and any information you choose to share with Everyone. To access any non-public information, these websites must ask for explicit permission.
Facebook has also responded to the rumours about the feature by displaying the following information when a user disables Instant Personalization:
Recently people have been spreading false rumors about instant personalization. This program was introduced in April 2010, and if you choose to disable it, none of your information can be shared when you or your friends arrive on these websites.
Thus, there is nothing overtly sinister about the Instant Personalization feature. Unless you give express permission, it will only use data that is already publically available via Facebook. Many people may find that the service does make their experience more enjoyable when visiting the partner websites.

That said, Facebook has been rightly criticized for the manner in which Instant Personalization was implemented. In most cases, the Instant Personalization setting was enabled by default when it was rolled out to users. Thus, many users may not have been aware that the feature had become available and was already enabled on their accounts. Obviously, it would have been considerably more prudent if Facebook had made the feature purely opt-in from the beginning.

In any case, switching off Instant Personalization is easy. Here's how:
  1. Click "Account" on the top right of your Facebook Page

  2. Click "Privacy Settings"

  3. Click "Edit your settings" in the Apps and websites section

  4. Click the "Edit Settings" button in the "Instant Personalization" section. A popup window may appear that provides more information about Instant Personalization. Click "Close" to exit this window.

  5. Untick "Enable instant personalization on partner websites" and confirm the change as prompted.
Once the feature is disabled, your information will no longer be shared with the partner websites.

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Instant Personalization
Help Center - Instant Personalization
Facebook instant personalization: How to disable it, and why

Last updated: 5th August 2011
First published: 5th August 2011
Article written by Brett M. Christensen
About Brett Christensen and Hoax-Slayer