Facebook and Your Privacy April 29, 2010

Written by: Digitally Approved
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A lot of talk has been generated recently in connection to privacy issues and Facebook. Many reports indicate that the latest updates don’t allow for as much privacy and that Facebook’s infiltration of “like” buttons across the web is going to somehow alter the browsing experience.  There are general concerns that Facebook is stripping power away from its users and forcing them share information they may not want to.  But if you take a look at your privacy settings, it is clear that Facebook users do still, in fact, have control over the vast majority of their privacy settings.

Public reaction began to steer toward the negative in January of this year when Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, expressed his opinion that public sharing of information is the new social norm.  This was in support of the decision to make users’ profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friends list and page subscriptions public information by default.  The changes meant that users who did not want this information to be public had to manually navigate through the maze of privacy options and individually change preferences.  The backlash was fairly strong, but more recent changes have added fuel to the fire.

At Facebook’s F8 conference last week, Zuckerberg made another wave of announcements regarding the dissemination of “like” buttons, public sharing of information and external site partnerships.  He discussed the change from being a “fan” of something to “liking” something as a tactic designed to make opting-in more attractive and universal.  Further, “like” buttons will now be appearing on sites across the web, giving users the ability to publish content to their Facebook news feed without ever leaving the page they are browsing.  By default, this “liked” content will be visible to everyone, unless privacy preferences are changed.

More ominous changes loom in the form of Facebook’s new policies for listing education, employment and interests.  If you have logged into Facebook recently, you have probably seen a popup like the one below that asks if you would like a suggested list of pages linked to your profile.  Essentially, Facebook has removed users’ ability to manually type interests or enter employment or school information without also “liking” the corresponding page.  This can be avoided by checking the subtly placed “choose pages individually” button in the bottom left, but again, the lack of clarity has caused many users to join pages and groups without being aware.  If you do not want to publicize your liked pages, go the “Account” tab, choose “Privacy settings,” then “Friends, Tags and Connections” and check the corresponding preferences.

The major issue with all of Facebook’s changes is not so much the things that are changing as it is the methods by which Facebook is justifying and implementing them.  Twitter has been consistent about their privacy standards from day one while Facebook’s have changed multiple times; it’s this inconsistency that seems duplicitous, as changes are often made unexpectedly or without warning or very little notice.

For the average Facebook user, the changes make it even more difficult to manage privacy.  For advanced and power users, the changes can actually be a boon to traffic and exposure, but only because they are understood and adjusted appropriately.  Users’ data drives clicks, comments and the targeted advertising network that is the backbone of the company’s current revenue stream, so it is no surprise that Zuckerberg doesn’t believe in privacy.  Privacy is something that Facebook must worry about because it has to, not because it wants to, so it follows why they are not privacy advocates.  The underlying reality is that users maintain the same controls they always have over their privacy.

The best thing to do is to be hip to changes and stay educated about the way they might affect your personal information.  If you have made your best efforts and doubts still remain, then act in line with the mantra “do not click, comment, post, share, etc. unless you are comfortable with the whole world seeing it.”  While public may be the new social norm, it need not determine or otherwise affect individual social preference.  Facebook only provides a platform.  It is up to each user to understand and decide how they want to use it for themselves.