Facebook privacy changes come with a price for research

facebook network

Facebook is making an important move today that very few people seem to notice. I went looking for news articles about the change and came up with just one from Tech Crunch, and another from The Next Web. Both articles just describe it as a win for privacy, but it’s more complicated. Several important research apps are being shut down or limited, NameGenWeb, Netvizz (other features still available), and the Algopol project. These apps / projects let users visualize a graph of relationships between their own friends.

As an example, in my digital research methods course this fall some of my students downloaded and analyzed their social graphs, see the image above link to image post. The Algopol project based in France (recent Le Monde article about findings) is using these graphs as a basis for qualitative interviews as well — very important work given the prominence of the site in the lives of many users.

Although the research being done is important, it is very likely that most developers using this information are not using it for social science but advertising and marketing. There are important privacy issues when you can choose to reveal information about the friendships of your friends to third party apps without their permission. It may well be that Facebook made the right choice, but it is not without important costs.

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