Social reader apps have taken over Facebook, where now it is almost impossible to click on a link without being asked to grant an app access to your Facebook profile. Are these apps the first incarnation of the future of social news or just a temporary fad trotted out by media companies to extract reader data?
Facebook was once a place where people could freely post content to which I could view without having to join anything or sacrifice any more of my fleeting privacy. That all changed with the introduction of social reader apps. These insidious applications burrowed their way into my news feed forcing me to grant them access all of my Facebook information for the price of following a link to one of their articles directly from Facebook. As my small personal protest I would always search for the article outside of Facebook so that I was not a pawn in their game. I also took joy in knowing that in some small statistically insignificant my path to their site was giving credit to Google instead of Facebook because I was searching for their content in the search engine and not accessing directly from my news feed.
The first social reader app I ever saw belonged to the Washington Post, and I will admit that initially I thought that the idea was novel. I soon realized that the app was a nightmare as it began posting every that article I, and everyone else read. My news-feed had been invaded from all directions by the Washington Post Social Reader. My next encounter with forced social sharing was with Spotify. I could do without Washington Post but with Spotify I had to find a way to disable the sharing. I did not feel like broadcasting my music choices but Spotify’s service was worth sacrificing my privacy. Now it is difficult to find content on Facebook that is not served up vie some social app demanding access to my Facebook profile as the price of admission.
If I want to share something I am capable of deciding to share it. The ubiquitous sharing buttons on every article allow me to effortlessly make the proactive choice to share something if I find it genuinely interesting. However most of what I read on the Internet is not worth the electrons used to deliver it. I put forced or deceptive sharing right up there with banks that offered the forced $35 “service” of mandatory overdraft protection instead of declining my bank card.
On top of that to demand access to all the information in my Facebook profile as the price to your marginally interesting content is just adding insult to injury. Sites compile enough information through the use of various other means including what Facebook gives them just for having a sharing button; I do not intend to make it an easier for them. I am not some privacy hoarder, I use social networks and accept the trade-off between privacy and personalized content but you have to draw the line somewhere.
A trend that I am all to happy to see is the decline in the usage of social reader apps on Facebook, at least in the case of my original nemesis, the Washington Post App. Unfortunately Facebook is committed to moving forward with social news. They have said as much and it fits squarely in with their share everything philosophy. The best we can hope for is that they find a way to do it that is less intrusive and annoying than its current incarnation. The one thing that Facebook needs to realize is that there is no algorithm for what I want to share, and no matter how much of my data they compile they will never be able to make that decision for me.