October 31, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Developers Can Access Facebook Listening Habits with Permission

Developers can access all sorts of information about you through your Facebook social graph in order to customize their applications to your taste.

Attention music fans: You might want to watch what you listen to on music apps that connect to Facebook and other services.

Each song you listen to helps these services build a detailed view of your listening preferences, so if you favor a guilty pleasure too often (here’s mine), it could come back to haunt you days, weeks, or even years later.

Before you’re overcome with paranoia, think about it: The overall effect of this will be positive. Stuff you listen to today can shape what you hear tomorrow. (If that freaks you out, you can always listen without sharing that activity.)

For a while now, developers who access your “social graph” on Facebook can learn which artists, albums, or songs you have “Liked,” and construct their apps accordingly to reflect your taste. To see what developers see when they access this information, go here and click the link next to Music in the second list of links.

Look familiar?

In addition, developers can now access your playback activity (in addition to your Likes), from whatever music apps are linked to your Facebook account (in addition to your video and news habits). Facebook partner engineer Matt Kelly discussed this in an interview with Evolver.fm last week about his MTV O Music Award-winning app, CrowdJuke.

[Updated: Kelly later told us, "That statement wasn't about (Facebook) Platform -- I was speaking in general. I've considered pulling listening data from other services like Last.fm." However, Facebook does allow developers to access that data.]:

Evolver.fm: So is it just their Facebook Likes [that power CrowdJuke's music recommendations], or is it the playback stuff too on MOG, Spotify, Rdio and so on?

Kelly: Right now it just uses Likes, but at some point it will use all the listening data too.

This page on Facebook indicates that third-party developers can in fact access at least some listening data — not only what you’ve been listening to, but the listening habits of your friends, too.

Users must grant an app “extended permission” to access their listening behavior, but still, it’s a valuable resource for developers considering how many people use Facebook — and how many of them listen to music using connected services. Here’s how that works, in developer-ese:

Built-In Verticals

Apps can prompt for an extended permission to read a user’s built-in Actions in the following verticals:

Music: user_actions.music and friends_actions.music
Video: user_actions.video and friends_actions.video
News: user_actions.news and friends_actions.news
App Specific Actions

To read actions for users from a specific app, you will need to prompt for the extended permission for the app’s namespace. To read user’s and friend’s actions in an app with example_app as its namespace, we need to ask for:

user_actions:example_app and friends_actions:example_app [our emphases]

At Music Hack Days like the one where Kelly first started working on CrowdJuke as a side project from his day job at Facebook, one of the most popular platforms with which developers build next-generation music apps is Last.fm. This is because it “scrobbles” what you’re listening to in order to create a musical taste profile.

For starters, this lets you play your own personalized radio station. But it’s arguably more important for how it lets third-party developers incorporate your taste into their apps. Unfortunately for Last.fm, which has done the same sort of thing for about ten years now, this is Facebook’s big new idea.

Facebook’s ability to serve up your Likes to developers is one thing, but who has the time to search all of Facebook for every artist, album, and song that one likes and click all those Like buttons?

Relying on “Likes” to suggest music is clumsy and vague. Using people’s actual listening behavior is much more accurate. If Facebook rolls out this feature, you’ll be able to “scrobble” your music listening to Facebook to improve apps that haven’t even been invented yet, which is neat.

Any service that tracks listening behavior and makes it public has to be careful to avoid privacy issues — otherwise, your boss could see what you’re listening to and when. (“No internet connection? Really? Why were you playing DeBarge on Spotify at 2:34pm?”)

But in total, Facebook’s addition of listening activity to its social graph API is a boon to developers, while making the world more responsive to our personal taste, and we’re all for that.

Now, please: Will someone build an app that picks elevator music filtered for calmness that matches my taste when I step into an elevator?