Why Facebook's new 'Anonymous Login' matters

As an easy, seamless sign-in tool, the 'Log in with Facebook' button has many fans, but privacy concerns have been a roadblock to universal acceptance. That's about to change.

By MSN Money Partner May 1, 2014 11:38AM

Forbes on MSN MoneyFacebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gestures while delivering the keynote address at the f8 Facebook Developer Conference Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in San Francisco. (c) AP Photo/Ben MargotBy Kashmir Hill, Forbes

Facebook (FB) is moving one step closer to becoming your all-access pass to the Internet.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday that the company plans to offer "Anonymous Login." Don't get confused: That doesn't mean you can log in to Facebook anonymously. It means you can use your Facebook account to log-in to other sites and apps anonymously.

Say at Forbes.com. Like so many companies in the digital space, we now require people to create an account to interact with us, so you either have to give us an email address or use a social account to comment. With Facebook's "anonymous login" offering, you could comment on our site using your Facebook account, but without giving us access to your name, profile photo, birthdate, friends list, astrological sign, blood type and the ex you're most embarrassed to have dated.

Unfortunately, you can't do that at Forbes quite yet. In a release about the new offering, Facebook says it is "testing Anonymous Login with a few developers" with plans to "open it up to more developers in the coming months." More immediately, users logging into a website or app using Facebook will have more control over which information from their profile gets handed over.

Should "Anonymous Login" become universally available, I expect it will be widely used. The sign up process for new services is laborious. Everyone hates filling out forms for a new account, and confirming a password via email. It's far easier to "log in using Facebook" (or Twitter (TWTR) or Google (GOOG)) but most people hate the information hand-over that entails, giving some new service access to your Facebook details or the right to post tweets on your Twitter account.

Erasing that risk will make people even more comfortable using Facebook as their universal sign-in across the Web and app ecosystem. Which is great for Facebook as a utility; even if people aren't visiting Facebook as often, they're using it constantly to interact with other services.

Though it's allowing users to sign into third party services anonymously -- by providing those services with a unique code that can't be tied back to the person's Facebook account -- their use of those services won't be anonymous to Facebook. Facebook the data broker will still know every service their users are signed up for, making them even more valuable to advertisers who want to target particular groups.

By giving users the power of anonymity for services outside of Facebook, the company makes itself more valuable as the broker who grants access to those users -- about which it knows so much.

In other words, anonymous login is not really anonymous. Facebook still knows who you are, and can tie you to your behavior on those third party sites – say, if law enforcement comes calling.

As my colleague Jeff Bercovici notes, "this (is a big step) for Facebook, a company that's always been about real identity, sharing and user data. The success of privacy-oriented apps like Snapchat, Whisper and Secret evidently is not lost on them."

Zuckerberg spoke with Wired's Steven Levy about why Facebook is offering this up, even if it risks infuriating developers around Facebook, who will be starved of user information when Anonymous Login is used.

Via Wired:

ZUCKERBERG: Our philosophy is that we care about people first. In the case of login, some of the things that we're doing may add a little bit of friction to the experience by giving people the opportunity to not share certain things with apps. That will mean that developers will have to adjust. Over time, making it so that people trust the blue button to log in to Facebook will ultimately be good for developers, too.

According to Facebook, the "blue button" -- used to sign into everything from Airbnb to Forbes -- was used "over 10 billion times last year, giving (users) a fast and easy way to sign in to apps without having to remember separate usernames and passwords." It has become the driver's license that people flash to get into the digital bars around the Web. Though 10 billion seems small in light of Facebook's billion-member user base.

WIRED: It seems you're also responding to the idea that people in general are uneasy about how much information is on Facebook, and sharing that information with developers might give them pause.
ZUCKERBERG: When we were a smaller company, Facebook login was widely adopted, and the growth rate for it has been quite quick. But in order to get to the next level and become more ubiquitous, it needs to be trusted even more. We're a bigger company now and people have more questions. We need to give people more control over their information so that everyone feels comfortable using these products.

Levy does point out that this is not about anonymity from Facebook but with Facebook.

WIRED: Also, you're now allowing people to use Facebook Connect without revealing who they are.
ZUCKERBERG: Yeah. But I don't think that this is making anonymity on Facebook. What it's doing is allowing someone to sign in to an app without revealing who they are to the app. But then we also offer this nice upgrade path so that after you've signed in anonymously, if you are comfortable telling the app your information, you can easily do that. You can maintain a seamless experience without having to set up a new identity within the app because it's all continuous.
In other words, "anonymity" is the gateway drug to greater disclosure. Once the connection is made, it's expected you'll take the cloak off and share some info.

More from Forbes

May 1, 2014 1:59PM
If you value your privacy, stay off of Facebook!

May 1, 2014 2:18PM
When you login to your facebook using any app you are making facebook money and advertising for them. Like Google, Facebook is an advertising company where your information is the product.
May 1, 2014 3:18PM
Are people that stupid that they don't understand that FB will still collect the data as it is not anonymous to  them !!

All you are doing is giving zBerg more personal information - what you like, don't like etc - what kind of articles you comment on - and the sites that allow this - do you really think they are getting nothing from FB - of course they are - maybe not names but for sure your other information.

Seriously as we get technologically smarter humans are become dumber !!
May 1, 2014 3:11PM
More BS and smoke and mirrors from FB!
May 1, 2014 2:59PM
Stay away from Facebook and all other social websites if you value your privacy and don't want to be used as a commodity and a tool for someone's profits. Furthermore, one should remove or block all advertising and tracking software on all electronic products as I have done.
May 1, 2014 4:48PM
Yet another reason NOT to use FaceBook
May 1, 2014 2:50PM
Yet another way to get a Zuckerberg facial instead of reading a book.
May 1, 2014 3:16PM
I LOL at everyone that decries FB as the reaper of all personal information and then have accounts to a dozen different web sites such as the aforementioned Forbes.com. One way or another your info is out there. The only way to avoid that is to avoid using the internet in any fashion, never buy anything, never use a credit or debit card, never fill out a form - not even in the hospital, and then MAYBE the information you hold so dear will remain yours and yours alone. 
May 1, 2014 5:30PM

I will NEVER give Facebook or any social media website my real name or phone number or any of my personal information EVER.

They have all proven they can’t be trusted keep your information confidential, or not to market your information, In addition they have all rolled over and kissed the NSA’s backside and have just turned over anything the NSA wants’ and without even a legal challenge.

Anonymity is one of the best things about the web; and it’s also protected by the First Amendment of the constitution, Talley v. California, , 65 (1960) because forced “identification and fear of reprisal might deter perfectly peaceful discussions of public matters of importance”

Facebook and other social that require you to give anything other then a name and email address have no interest in protecting your private information and you’re a fool if you give then anything else. They are not your friends!

May 1, 2014 10:58PM
Facebook: Just a small step above reality TV, which is really bad.
May 1, 2014 4:22PM
The only problem is that your digital trail is still there and all of your posts are still linked to your account (a jackpot for data miners). A breach in security down the road could spell trouble since people would be able to potentially get a lot more info. from you than if you simply create a bogus sign in (know who your friends are, where you lived, where you work, where you went to school, etc. etc.). Also, this is just another avenue for Facebook to make more dollars. A lot of people will use it out of convenience though, so I guess it's a good business move by FB.
May 1, 2014 5:59PM

I don't use facebook, never have, never will. But then I'm not a herd dependent person and choose not to follow the lemmings as they rush towards the cliffs of doom leaping blindly into the ocean of stupidity.

You don't know anything about me and I certainly do not want to know anything about you.

May 1, 2014 6:21PM
I have over 100 Facebook accounts!
May 1, 2014 9:49PM
What a crock'  every computer has an Ip address and every thing you browse, buy, or type in can be acessed by your Ip address. They would like you to think you are having some privacy on your computer but it just isn't so. How do you think the feds are catching crooks. There is no such thing as privacy when you are on your computer or telephone. Everything you say on a phone is digital recorded and can be used against you in a court of law if necessary. If you think you have privacy in todays world you are living in a fanacy land. I wouldnt go on suckfacebook if they paid me,its a giant soap opra of busy bodys and fartsy wartsys.
May 2, 2014 11:00AM
Why should I need to log into other websites using facebook??????? That is such bullsh**!!!
May 1, 2014 3:44PM
I actually do not agree with this. Although people create troll Facebook login identities, requiring commenters to log in with a Facebook identity (their own name) does improve talk backs on articles. There is a real difference between newspapers that use Facebook for comments versus Disqus. Zuckerberg and company are opening up the uncontrolled troll gates again.
May 2, 2014 4:30AM
I closed my FB account last year. Best move I've made online to protect my privacy.
May 1, 2014 4:27PM

Worried about surveillance?................try counterintelligence.

May 2, 2014 10:18AM
"trust" and "Facebook" in the same sentence doesn't make sense.
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