I closed the post on the new selective status update feature in facebook earlier this week with instructions for turning off search engine indexing of your activity on the site. a bunch of other people talked about it too, and I guess facebook was surprised at how many people were following the advice. here’s what they did about it, and why it was the wrong thing to do.
the company’s initial response to protests against the changes it made to user privacy settings was to say, “it’s what most users want” or “it’s how the social internet is evolving.” I found these answers disingenuous, but was willing to go along, especially after facebook quickly reversed its decision to make all users’ friend lists universally viewable. however, with one little popup, the company crossed the line.
as I said, information on how to stay (sort of) off the search engines’ radar with one’s farmville addiction was widely available. my friend mona was among those forwarding around instructions on how to fix that particular setting. I noticed that one of the commenters mentioned seeing a popup from facebook when he came to the search privacy settings page. I hadn’t seen anything, so I went to look. sure enough, there it was:
I will freely admit that I am not against facebook and other social media outlets promoting more sharing of information. I believe that if it’s done right, it will actually help joe and jane consumer by cutting down on marketing for stuff they don’t want or need. to see one example, just read my post about foursquare and geotargeting.
in the reassuring language above, facebook asserts that nothing has changed, that public profiles have always been sharable and that only basic information is shared. here’s the problem, though. the notice does not reveal is that the company has changed its definition of “basic information!”
the old world of facebook privacy settings was a labyrinthine mess. however, if you followed tutorials like my (now-outdated) guide to facebook privacy settings, you could be reasonably sure that your information was your own. basic information now includes the facebook pages of which you are a fan, your gender, photo, location and god knows what else.
I’m in favor of sharing information, but I disagree strongly with how facebook is trying to mandate and/or use deception to encourage information sharing by its user base.
photo credit: pong CC 2.0