Lora Bentley spoke with Tony Roth, President and CEO, Celect.org. Celect specializes in providing online communities for organizations such as fraternities and sororities, churches and university alumni associations. Roth is concerned that using Facebook Connect may cause organizations to give up sole ownership to certain member data.
Bentley: Facebook Connect concerns you. Why?
Roth: Well, first let me say that we are a major advocate of Facebook overall. In May of 2007, Facebook opened up what they call fully integrated applications, where third-party developers could build rich applications within the Facebook model and platform, and we actually do that. We operate sites within the Facebook modelfor fraternities and sororities, and have done so successfully and seamlessly for the last couple of years.
"It's my opinion that Facebook is now collecting that targeted information, and eventually it will end up being culled, segmented and used for marketing purposes by Facebook to promote the next movie from Disney or whatever."
Bentley: So what is Facebook Connect? How does it work?
Roth: Facebook Connect connects users-their Facebook identities, their friends and their own user privacy controls-to go out and work with third-party Web sites to implement and offer features from the Facebook platform that they may or may not have available through other applications. In other words, they're empowering the user to connect with Web sites and share
Bentley: With Web sites such as those Celect.org provides?
Roth: Well, our business model is built around the idea of servicing the organization online. Our client base is not the individual members. Our client base is actually the organizations themselves. As you can imagine, that comes with a heavy burden of compliance, of multi-level permissions, multi-level verification and authentication. But more importantly, it comes with kind of a protectionism clause that says we're not going to enable data share or traffic flow without authorization from the organization itselfWe're very organization-centric.
Facebook Connect is touting things like trusted authentication. In other words, they're installing a login that can be put into the organizational Web site or into the user's profile on Facebook. It's all about giving the user total control of the permissions granted. It's still being offered to the individual to drive that process, without a lot of gatekeeping from the Web site per se, that they want to share their profile, their content, their photos, whatever it may be. That's a little eerie from the organization's perspective because it's kind of a one-way street.
Bentley: So sharing data and information isn't good?
Roth: All of these things that Facebook Connect is doing are terrific social tools. If you're going to use it as a mechanism to reach a new demographic or to try and build awareness, that's all great and I can see a lot of benefit in it.
Roth: Facebook puts out its own safety clauses, and they're never going to guarantee they will stop the transmission of potentially inappropriate data, photos, content, etc. So if a member is controlling the permissions and the dynamic privacy attributes of how they share, when they share, what Web sites they want to share with (i.e., an organizational Web site), then how does that Web site-without bolstering its own screening and maybe even creating another layer of verification-how does it protect itself?
Bentley: Good question.
Roth: That's one area of concern.
Bentley: And the next one?
Roth: For the last four and a half years, our organizations-collegiate and otherwise-have pretty much dictated to us as their organizational Web site provider that the crown jewel of what they live for is their members. That database is extremely important and proprietary to them. They don't like to let it out. They're very careful about how they market to that membership and about how data regarding that membership base is shared.
Bentley: Makes sense.
Roth: The question that I can't get an answer to that I'm posing as a potential danger is this: If I'm an alumnus at the University of Illinois and I'm supposed to be serving on a committee for a capital campaign for a new stadium, and I decide I'm going to use Facebook Connect and I put my committee members out there because I think this is a cool social party line to use as I log in and out, and as I add my friends or fellow committee members and we share data back and forth, according to the Facebook platform, is that shared ownership now? Is that information no longer proprietary to the "user" or organization because I put it through Facebook Connect? I can't get a clear answer. I'd like to know who owns that data.
Bentley: What do you think the answer is?
Roth: It's my opinion that Facebook is now collecting that targeted information, and eventually it will end up being culled, segmented and used for marketing purposes by Facebook to promote the next movie from Disney or whatever.
Here's what we're trying to teach our organizations. If they really want to maintain clear editorial control and total control over their brand and message-which I've never heard an organization not want to do-then I want to know why they're allowing their members to become users of Facebook Connect and leak proprietary data? It's very unnerving.