Last night, when the technoscenti were howling on Twitter that Facebook broke the web, I didn’t have any clue what anyone was talking about. All of the affected sites—from CNN.com to Yelp—worked fine for me. Later, I realized why: Many moons ago, in order to protect my privacy from the online behavior-slurping machine that is Facebook, I installed on my web browser an extension called Facebook Disconnect.
Browser extensions are rarely the stuff of excitement, but Facebook Disconnect has an unusually colorful history. Former Google engineer Brian Kennish started the project after apparently concluding that his employer, as well as other large web companies, are a threat to privacy. Since its introduction, Facebook Disconnect has been joined by Google Disconnect and Twitter Disconnect.
Facebook’s login system and those ubiquitous Like buttons aren’t there merely for your convenience—they’re all part of an elaborate tracking system that allows Facebook to know what sites you’re visiting even when you’re not on Facebook.com. This helps Facebook target its advertisements, but it’s also more than a little creepy. Unlike ad blockers, which can make some sites impossible to view—and, let’s face it, deprive them of the revenue on which they depend—I’ve never found my browsing experience the least bit affected by Facebook Disconnect.
And best of all, the next time Facebook accidentally boinks half the internet, you won’t even know it happened.