Practical computer tips, with a smattering of digital philosophy

A letter to Pandora regarding its new look, and increasingly close relationship with Facebook

I am a Pandora One subscriber, though I’m starting to doubt that I will continue to be after my subscription expires next year.  Since I use the Pandora One Desktop applet, I was unaware until very recently of your recent interface overhaul, which seems to be the next stage in a partership between Pandora and Facebook that I was already exceedingly uncomfortable about.  As far as I can tell, your new interface is either designed to replicate the Facebook experience, or directly interface with Facebook’s own code in an even more integral fashion than before, or both.  Whatever the underlying rationale, I wanted to express my extreme dismay at your ongoing choice to incorporate into the Pandora site more and more elements (including tons of privacy infringing javascript) of what I consider to be one of the most unappealing and hazardous sites on the Internet.

In particular, I’m deeply troubled at the “Facebook Privacy” setting that now appears in the “Privacy” section of the Pandora web-app.  I may be mistaken, but I was under the impression that prior to this recent interface overhaul, several steps were required to explicitly link a Pandora account to a Facebook profile.  Those several steps seem to have at some point been condensed into a couple of deceptively simple checkboxes – which apparently someone deemed it appropriate to have automatically checked by default.  Given what I know of web technologies, that means that anyone who was using Pandora before this change was made and happens to stay logged into facebook most of the time (ie, a lot of people) automatically started having their music preferences shared on Facebook without ANY prior warning or consent.  Furthermore, given the somewhat vague descriptions associated with the checkboxes, and the fact that Facebook javascript is active any time I visit the Pandora site, I have very little confidence that Facebook isn’t getting huge amounts of data about me even though I have all of the checkboxes unchecked.  This is completely unacceptable.

To Pandora’s credit, one of the reasons why I am so distressed by the recent changes is that I used to consider Pandora to be one of the very few examples of a site that engaged in “responsible tracking,” in that you folks made it quite clear that Pandora users could choose to pay for the service EITHER by viewing targeted ads and being subject to extensive behavioral tracking, OR by paying a reasonable annual subscription fee.  This new interface move seems to me to be evidence that the distinction between paying and non-paying users may not be quite as clear as it was, in as much you are trying to “nudge” ALL of your users into sharing as much information as possible with either you or your corporate partner.  There is a reason that I chose to pay you $36 per year, and it isn’t just that I thought you had an idea worth supporting (which I did, and still do).  I deeply value my online privacy, and will go to great lengths to protect it.  And any attempt to subvert or second-guess my decision on that front is very, very likely to make me want to stop using the site that makes that move.

In case it isn’t clear what I’m asking for here, my request is simply this: that you make it unequivocally clear to your users when you are sharing their data with facebook, and when you aren’t (a little “Facebook link active” icon in the corner of the screen somewhere might be nice).  And for those users who don’t want their information shared with facebook (ESPECIALLY those users who are Pandora One subscribers), I’d ask that you fully respect that decision, and completely obliterate all of Facebook’s javascript and other script hooks from the version of Pandora that you serve up to these users.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.


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