There’s a new Web browser being released today. The RockMelt browser is being financed by Marc Andreessen’s venture capital firm. Andreessen, you may recall, co-founded Netscape.
Here’s today’s New York Times story: “Web Browsing Takes a Social Turn.”
So of course, right away I wanted to try this new RockMelt browser. And right away, I noticed that the RockMelt website requires us to use Facebook Connect to request an invitation. This stands to reason, because as Toby shows us in the video above, the RockMelt browser integrates with Facebook so you can share status updates with your Facebook friends and handle all sorts of other neat social media communicating right from your browser.
Assuming you’re already logged into Facebook, you’ll see the standard alert upon pressing the Facebook Connect button. It informs you that you are about to share any information that you ordinarily share with everyone with this new entity (RockMelt).
This Facebook Connect alert is becoming almost as routine as agreeing to terms and conditions anywhere on the Internet. It could take a lawyer (or a team of lawyers) to interpret what acceptance actually means. No one has time for that, so we just assume it must be okay because we recognize the Facebook brand.
But think for a moment about what this might include. There’s your real identity, for starters, and the city or ZIP code where you live. There’s a list of all your friends, as well as anything you’ve ever posted for public consumption. (For an example of how public these postings are, you can search Facebook status updates via OpenBook.org for any potentially embarrassing word or phrase.)
Now take that personal information of yours, and tie it to a Web browser. Think about the potential it could have when combined with every single Web page you visit, every Bing or Google search you run, every online purchase you make, and every bill you pay online.
Looking around for more information on RockMelt, I found this August 2009 article by Andrew Nusca at ZDNet: “Why I’m suspicious of the Facebook ‘RockMelt’ browser.” However, that piece is mostly concerned with RockMelt’s potential market share. I would be interested to learn more about its ability to gather personal information.
A post to the RockMelt blog yesterday — “World, Meet RockMelt” — gives us a clue:
Behind the scenes, RockMelt is always working on your behalf. Do you visit the same site 10 times a day, checking for new posts or updates? Well, RockMelt keeps track of all your favorite sites for you, alerting you when a new story comes out, a friend posts new pictures, or a new video is available.
So it would seem to follow that RockMelt would know if you visited a Tea Party forum repeatedly. Or sought a remedy for psoriasis. Or seemed particularly concerned about some oil spill somewhere. Think about how much you already know about former Minnesotan “Toby Rucksmith,” his new home in the Bay Area (where he rooms with a weird guy), and his new girlfriend “Chelsea Daniel” after watching one short video of him using this new browser.
I’m not sure everyone is going to be comfortable with that — not even “Toby Rucksmith.” Maybe there’s a reason he doesn’t seem to actually exist on Facebook or Google.