The folks who designed the language around Facebook have been very clever. When you think of Facebook, you think “like”. You think “friend”. It’s warm and fuzzy. It is comforting. You trust them (the faceless, but trustworthy them).

But over the last couple of weeks there have been some big changes at Facebook. Most of these changes won’t really be noticed by folks like you and I – the surface pretty much remaining the surface. The one visible change you may notice is the appearance of a Like button on your favourite sites. But deeper down is where it gets interesting and these changes will radically change the experience that we we once thought of as being our own.

The Graph API – a programming interface that allows computer applications and other computer systems to access the underlying business logic and data held within Facebook now turns our likes, relationships, status updates and interests into readily identifiable (and marketable) information.

This is great news for publishers (anyone with a website that wants to harvest/take advantage of the targeting, behavioural and segmentation data), bad news for Facebook’s competitors (and yes, I mean Twitter and Google) – and worse news for us – the chump users. Take a good read through this article by Alex Iskold at Read Write Web on the Facebook Open Graph – then see what this means in reality by reading the account of Kim Krause Berg:

Your personal profile is now a list of links. They link your content at their own discretion. So for example, I have the phrase “I am very proud of her”, referring to my daughter, in my profile. Facebook decided to link that to this Facebook page they created, without my permission.

Then – if you dare – use this tool to find out what Facebook knows (and shares) about you. You might be surprised. You might be horrified. You might be rubbing your hands together with glee.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a great article that tracks Facebook’s eroding privacy policy over time. They sum up as follows:

Viewed together, the successive policies tell a clear story. Facebook originally earned its core base of users by offering them simple and powerful controls over their personal information. As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve those controls. Instead, it’s slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users’ information, while limiting the users’ options to control their own information.

Clearly this is a long process. There has not been the outcry that accompanied Facebook’s last change in their terms of service. Maybe they learned their lesson and made the mechanisms far less visible on purpose. But whatever their motive, I’m reviewing my settings. There really are some things I want to share only with my friends.