Fitsort: Is it just a bit of fun?

30th March 2011

Fitsort is the Facebook application taking procrastination to a new level. But is it just a bit of fun or is it entirely immoral? The Pulse has been investigating.

If you don’t know what Fitsort it yet, Emma has been checking out the site. She found that it is entirely compliant with Facebook’s privacy policies, and whether or not we are aware our photos are available for use by external websites.

We managed to contact Fitsort, and they explained that, whilst undoubtedly the site could be seen as immoral, they are taking precautions to make sure they limit this potential.

Here is their full response:

The issues you’ve raised have come up quite a few times since the launch of the website – for the most part, in the form of e-mails from people confused about Facebook’s privacy policy, and how their personal data is being shared. While most people realise they are able to allow third-party applications access to their information, most people aren’t aware that Facebook grants their friends the same privelege, and do not realise that it is their friends who have chosen to give out their information (as you identified.)

But that’s all from a technical/legal standpoint (the other main issue being that fitsort doesn’t allow anybody to view any photos that they otherwise would not have been able to see, which is another common assumption). I would posit that Facebook’s privacy system is fairly flawed in the first place – while fitsort explicitly states that it requires access to your friends’ information, there are many other Facebook applications that collect this data in the background and store/sell it on (however, I’m pretty sure this is against Facebook’s terms of service).

From a moral standpoint, the impact of the site on its users and those rated in the system is something we’ve had to consider more post-launch – the site started as a small side-project, never really intended to reach any further than Cambridge! Once we realised it was spreading, various mitigations were made – the opt-out feature didn’t actually exist for the first week or two of the site’s existence, and we now hide the names of all those below a certain threshold rating. Of course, we realise that these compromises pale (in terms of privacy) to that of introducing an opt-in model, and opt-in is something we’ve considered; however, in this case, the site would die – part of the attraction is that it is widespread and varied enough that when first logging in, most people have at least a few friends already in the system (roughly 1/30 UK Facebook users are), and if it were the case that upon first visiting, there was nobody for a user to click on, they’d never return (or enter themselves into the system).

Whether this would be a bad thing or not remains to be seen – we never thought the site was going to get this big (4,000,000 votes and counting…), and it’s been interesting to watch it develop and spread throughout the UK. The vast majority of the feedback we receive is positive, but when we do receive negative feedback we try to take it on board and introduce measures to reduce the site’s potential for damage.

Emma and Lucy went on to discuss what they thought about the website.

We want to know what YOU think – is Fitsort a bit of harmless fun? Should Facebook make their privacy policy clearer or is it up to us to read it? Is it just NOT responsible to create a website where we judge our friends based on their looks?