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New browser RockMelt is very friendly with your Facebook information

November 8, 2010 |  2:51 pm

RockMelt is very friendly. But is it too friendly?

The idea behind the new social browser is to build your online connections into your Web browsing experience. Other browsers have been doing this for a while: think Flock or Firefox plug-ins. But RockMelt's bond with Facebook is particularly tight.

Along a left-hand rail are thumbnails of your favorite Facebook friends who are online. Mouse over the thumbnails and you can see their latest posts or chat with them. You can update your status on Facebook by clicking a button in the left-hand corner. If you find a video or article you want to share with your friends, you can click a share button at the top of the browser that gives you the option of posting to your Facebook wall or sending a message to a friend.

That seamless integration comes with a caveat: You have to use your Facebook credentials to log into the browser and then give RockMelt permission to access your newsfeed, chat, friend list, profile information, photos and more. In fact, you have to give RockMelt permission to access your data at any time so that RockMelt can send you timely updates about what your friends are doing.

This is something that applications on Facebook have done for a long time through Facebook Connect. But it does raise questions for some people and is the sort of thing that makes privacy watchdogs melt down. Will some users be put off by RockMelt's outgoing nature?

I asked RockMelt's founders Eric Vishria and Tim Howes last week how they would respond to privacy concerns. They assured me they make privacy a priority and have no plans to run an advertising network that targets personal information. They said they do not store personal information about users or track what they do online. The data the browser collects and aggregates to improve its performance are stored in a way that preserves the anonymity of the users, they added.

"We take that very seriously," Vishria said. "If you don't have the trust of your users, you don't have anything."

RockMelt is giving away the browser for free and has no immediate plans to generate revenue, Vishria said. But it may look at making money from referrals from search engines, which is how other browsers make money as well as revenue from building services into the browser such as online gaming or e-commerce.

"Everything is becoming social, it's a huge part of the Web," Vishria said.

-- Jessica Guynn