Facebook Connect: What's Next for Your Facebook Info?

As more third-party websites sign onto Facebook's Connect program, early data shows those sites are reaping traffic and registration spikes. While Facebook has proceeded carefully with the handling of Connect users' personal data, analysts say the social network would have greater business opportunities if it could gain access to more data at partner sites.

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In addition, the strong privacy settings that Facebook built for its own site have been extended to Facebook users who utilize Connect across the Web, according to Facebook's Morin.

"One of the key shortcomings of all the data portability initiatives in the past has always been [privacy]," Morin says. "Facebook is really strong at allowing people to represent themselves with their real authentic identity. People are used to their real name, their real profile photo, and connect to all of their real friends. And so as we looked at enabling Facebook users to go anywhere with that identity that they've created, one of the most important things we were looking at is how do we enable that privacy model to follow you wherever you go."

Perhaps learning from past missteps with Beacon, Facebook also improved its public relations prior to the roll out of Connect. According to a report in the New York Times in November, before releasing Connect, Facebook briefed (and received approval from) Moveon.org, the political action committee that led a loud minority of users in protesting the Beacon Advertising incident last year, citing privacy concerns.

While the strategy of offering Connect for free and not delving into user activities sounds very well and good, it's an issue Facebook as a business may want to reconsider in the future, analysts say. Although Facebook garners incredible web traffic and user retention in its own right, people don't utilize the social network's search tool for many product related activities, a limiting factor when it comes to serving up relevant ads that people actually click on to make purchases.

"Even heavy Facebook users only spends a portion of their day there," Yarmis says. "They should want to see what you're doing elsewhere. If they can see the things I do on the other website, they get a better image of what I do and can have a more commercial view of things."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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