Saturday, 10 May 2008

Is Facebook the new Ministry of Information?

The Technology blog in the Guardian is running a story on Facebook announces Connect, to use your data on external sites. This comes just a few days after HEIs who are using Blackboard found out that they would be forced to block, rather than buy-into, a Facebook application that connects Blackboard to Facebook. I commented a while back about CourseFeed and its implications for data, security, privacy and pedagogy. At least that was a service that HEIs could buy-into. With this new app you have to be seen to buy out of it. If a student from HEI X tries to plug the app in s/he might get a DNS message, which might not look good. We have decided to opt out of the app whilst we test the building block for impact upon our data, security and network.

Now this isn't to state that the app or mash-ups of data from various sources is bad, per se. However, I now note that through Connect, Facebook is offering new ways for it to enhance the use of your data. As Jack Schofield notes in the Grud:

"Apart from anything else, it seems to imply that Facebook could become the central repository for identity on the web. And it's even worse than Microsoft's Passport, because Passport didn't care what name you used, and didn't drag your friends along too."

This reminds me of The Ministry of Information in Terry Gilliam's Kafka-esque Brazil, which presents a "dystopian world in which there is an over-reliance on poorly maintained (and rather whimsical) machines". I'm not saying that Facebook is lurching towards the control and manipulation of personal data, which is notionally owned by individuals but used by others, but I do wonder whether our staff and students need clarity of information in how their information can and is being used when they add that app or tick that "I agree" box.

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