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Facebook Gets a Bit of Privacy Religion

In my last post I lambasted Facebook for the obfuscation of their privacy settings, not to mention their (intentional?) incompetence at implementing them.  This week was interesting in the Facebook privacy space.  First, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg posts this letter in the Washington Post which was just unapologetic enough to add fuel to the fire.  Later this week, there was a press event announcing the rollout of new Facebook privacy settings.

While it will take some time for Facebook to earn my trust again, I must admit that this struck me as a move in the right direction.  Facebook has drastically simplified their privacy settings to three simple categories.

This is a significant improvement over the A380 cockpit-like privacy settings.  There are a few hidden traps though…

The Good

No doubt, this is a more straightforward approach.  Selecting ‘custom settings’ from the easy-to-find privacy settings menu item gives you a simple and easy to understand list of items you can configure depending upon how open you wish to be with your private information.

Almost anyone with even a modicum of Internet savvy can manage using this new panel.

The Bad

Facebook also gives users the ability to opt-out of various applications, which can be additional avenues for disclosing personal information.

The bad part about this is that the link to get here is hidden at the bottom of the privacy settings page as a little text link.  I suppose I will give Facebook the benefit of the doubt on this one because of the popularity of the applications and games as well as the fact that much of their monetization approach depends upon use of them.  Just be aware, that once you’ve finished setting your information into the three simplified categories you’ve still got some work to do to completely configure your privacy options.

The Ugly

I’m a naturally suspicious person by nature where my private information is concerned.  As I mentioned before it’s going to take a while for Facebook to earn my trust back.  So, in that spirit I decided to check how secure my privacy settings really were after setting all of my information to ‘Friends Only’ and completely opting-out of use of the application and game platform.  You can do this as well by following these simple steps:

  1. Go to ReclaimPrivacy.org.
  2. Follow the simple instructions which ask you to drag a bookmark to your bookmark toolbar.
  3. Navigate to you facebook privacy settings page and click on the new bookmark.

Note that ReclaimPrivacy.org‘s scripts are still being adapted for the new privacy settings on Facebook.  I had thought that by making all of my settings ‘Friends Only’ and opting out of use of any games or applications that I would effectively be in stealth mode.  Unfortunately, this was not the case according to ReclaimPrivacy.org.

I clicked on the ‘contact settings’ link and sure enough, there are many many more settings (most of which I wouldn’t consider contact settings) to deal with.

I urge everyone to try a ReclaimPrivacy.org scan of your settings and see how unsettled you are.  If it doesn’t both you, you’re fine.  Otherwise reserve an afternoon to pour over these settings to tailor them to your comfort level.

Move in the Right Direction?

So, are Facebook’s new settings an indication that they’re moving into a transparent and user-centric approach to privacy.  Hardly, it seems.  While I do agree this is a move in the right direction it’s a very small move and is more show than substance.

Nice try Mark!

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About the Author

Dave ReynoldsA software development professional and entrepreneur working on video delivery back-office and infrastructure by day and simple and focused web applications and mobile/location based devices after hours.View all posts by Dave Reynolds →

  1. artwrter2010artwrter201005-31-2010

    pretty neat post for facebook fans like me. Privacy is really an important thing especially when it comes to the web. I wonder what other things will be improved in the coming months? Have you any ideas?

    Anyway, thanks for the post. Really helps.

  2. Dave ReynoldsDave Reynolds05-31-2010

    Many thanks! If I had to guess, I would suspect that Facebook won’t change much more. This was a big improvement and although I’m still not 100% happy, I believe that most users will be. Since their business model depends upon sharing information between users, if everyone went ‘stealth’ Facebook would soon be a ghosttown and loose it’s appeal.

    Most people aren’t as paranoid as I am…:).

  3. radicalwill2010radicalwill201006-02-2010

    Great post! I love how simpler the privacy settings are now.