Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Facebook Privacy Policy May Catch Some Users by Surprise

Facebook updated its privacy policy last week, and the social networking site has come under fire for what many consider to be the site’s gradual deterioration of privacy protection.

Particularly troubling:  the popular social networking site touted the changes as giving users more control over their information. To the contrary, the changes actually seem to reduce the amount of control users have over the privacy of their information.

Certain privacy settings seem to have been lost altogether. Perhaps the most glaring example is that some information users used to be able to keep private is now considered “publicly available.” Under the old settings, a user could edit her “basic information” privacy settings to prevent disclosure of everything but her name and networks to which she belonged. This option no longer exists, and Facebook now says “your name, profile photo, list of friends and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks you belong to are considered publicly available to everyone.” In other words, you can’t “opt out” of sharing this information and no privacy settings let you prevent its disclosure. Anyone who looks at your profile will be able to see this info (and so can any application you or your friends use).

Users should also be aware, Facebook's "recommended settings" probably lead many users to share more information than they mean to.

It seems even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg couldn’t figure out the new privacy settings, as many news sources are reporting that he’s tinkered with his settings more than once following implementation of the new policy. He even (seemingly inadvertently) let his whole profile -- pictures and all -- "go public" for a short time.  Whoops! 

Bottom line, Facebook seems to be pushing users to share more information than they want to or mean to. After all, indexing more information helps Facebook in the real-time search battle against sites like Twitter. The problem for Facebook:  as opposed to other sites with the more "show all, to all" default settings, most of Facebook's users joined its social network because of its more protective privacy options and default settings. 

The ACLU offers a detailed analysis of various aspects of the new policy, and interested Facebook users may want to check out that resource to ensure they're not sharing more than intended.  And this blog offers a helpful guide on how to restore some privacy to Facebook profiles.

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