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Facebook’s New Privacy Settings

Facebook’s New Privacy Settings

June 2, 2010

Recent online campaigns by Facebook users, such as Quit Facebook Day illustrates the uneasiness and increasing lack of trust of Facebook as a custodian of people’s private lives. At the end of April this year four US senators sent a complaint  letter to Facebook raising the alarm about the growing exposure of users, the complexity and bias of their privacy settings. In July 2009 Canada’s Privacy Commissioners Office found Facebook in contravention of their privacy laws and a request for investigation of Facebook was made by the EPIC to the Federal Trade Commission on grounds of Unfair  Deceptive Trade Practices.

In response to this uproar, last week Facebook introduced a change to its privacy settings, with the objective of Making Control Simple. These new features are gradually being rolled out so users may not perceive immediate differences. One of the main aims, CEO Mark Zuckerberg explains, is that users will have a single control over the content that they post. In addressing a more controversial part of their policy (See CBS video here), Facebook have added a feature whereby users can ‘turn off’ the information they share to applications and third party websites.

Since this change of policy, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a useful blog post clarifying to users ‘How To Get More privacy From Facebook’s New Privacy Controls’ (there is also a video available on that page). The first step is adjusting how your basic directory information appears. However, according to Facebook, your ‘name, profile picture, gender and networks are always open to everyone’. One useful way of having an idea what information you display to other connections on Facebook is to use the ‘preview how your profile appears to a specific person’ search tool, which can be found in the basic directory information settings pages. You can then follow the instructions in the link above to adjust how much information you want to share and edit the applications and websites feature.

However, not everyone is satisfied with these new settings. Privacy International have expressed disappointment and frustration at this move. With a privacy policy that went from around a 1000 words to more like 6000 words, one wonders whether it is possible to suddenly reverse a trend of increasing complexity with a ‘simple control’ overhaul. It remains to be seen. But the question persists whether some credibility has been irrevocably lost (see article on new Facebook competitor Diaspora) or at least that it will take some time to restore.