facebook has made some fairly dramatic changes in the way users control access to part or all of their facebook presence since I wrote one of my first posts last spring. yes, you can use facebook privacy settings to prevent public humiliation – or maybe just an awkward conversation. no, most people don’t, and facebook doesn’t help a lot. I have taken a piecemeal approach to reviewing changes – writing a quick post here and there that addresses one aspect or another of the changes, but nothing that encompasses the whole. in the past week, facebook has stirred the pot once again with proposed changes to what information is shared with third-party (read advertisers). short version: facebook privacy sucks in new ways, even as they improve in some areas. long version? read on!
check out a screen shot from last year’s post (left) and one from today: what’s the big whoop? looks pretty much the same, right? ah, but look deeper…
more facebook privacy changes
in 2009, facebook let you decide what you wanted to share from your profile with non-friends:
two big changes: facebook’s deal with google and bing means that “people who can find you in search” is anyone, not just facebook users. also, note the two check boxes I left unchecked: my friend list and the list of facebook pages I had joined. facebook now considers these items part of your basic information and makes them available to anyone in facebook o internet-wide who wants a peek. facebook did back pedal a bit in the wake of broad protest. I wrote how to turn off sharing your facebook friend list back when the changes hit in december 2009. however, someone searching on your name will get your facebook profile pretty high up in the rankings. and the basic info page that even non-facebook users get looks like this:
my profile picture? it’s there. facebook pages I’ve “fanned?” there too, making it the work of a moment to check my facebook gaydar-ness. but check out this public profile for the un-btrandolph todd randolph:
facebook is happy to share your friend list with the world, including thumbnail profile pictures of your besties.
better privacy controls for ongoing updates
on the positive side, facebook did add in some pretty granular controls on who sees stuff users post. here’s where the friend lists I am always going on about come in handy. if I’m promoting my latest opus on the qualified yes, I can make that status update available to everyone, everywhere till the end of time. yay, me! but say I am [over]sharing photos and the doctor’s comments on an unusual rash. even I, attention whore hound that I am, have some standards. I can set that little tidbit to go only to my friends or even a particularly discerning subset of my friends. like the ones that just clicked on the rash link – you know who you are.
in effect, we have traded the ability to guard the privacy of some pretty important profile information for the ability to control more finely who gets to see our ongoing updates. to clarify, facebook users have been forced to trade rather than electing to trade. but someone’s gotta pay the electric bills over at facebook hq, and unless users express a desire to subscribe to the service that means advertisers. facebook’s advertisers, and now google’s and microsoft’s, as well. I’ve talked before about the rationale for facebook’s privacy changes late last year – they cut a deal with the big search engines and needed more demographics and content to send over the fence.
but wait, it gets better. in the past week or so, facebook has been floating some proposed additional changes to privacy policies. currently, when users sign up for applications, games, quizzes, etc., they have to click through a disclosure of what information facebook will share with the application. most users pay no attention to this at all, which is a whole other rant. with the proposed changes, however, facebook intends to share personal profile information with some third parties that have not been approved by the user:
translation – users may visit a page or application for the first time and find a personalized version. a lot of the tech sites (like the one linked above in techcrunch) see this as a frightening violation of user privacy. I think that most of the zillion or so people going on facebook now won’t notice or care much – unless or until it bites them in the ass. which will almost certainly happen for some. the success of the changes will depend on how widespread the ass-biting is.
how is your facebook experience going? have you noticed changes stemming from the new privacy settings? are you like this german government official who’s just saying no (I’m not sure what her fondness for livestock has to do with it), or are you satisfied that taking the steps described on this blog and those linked to below are enough?
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- Facebook the Corporation, and User Privacy (pamil-visions.net)