Sunday, December 13, 2009

Facebook's new privacy settings not popular

In my very quick overview of Facebooks new privacy policies I said that overall the changes looked good. I still believe that, but some things that weren't obvious in that quick look shows that it's not all good. While there were some good things done in Facebooks new privacy settings, some things that used to be configurable aren't anymore, and people are complaining. Whether privacy advocates such as the EFF or individual users commenting directly to Facebook, there is definitely a feeling that, while some of the changes are good, some things, especially the transition tool that pops up the first time you log into Facebook after the new settings were implemented, are aimed more at removing privacy than improving it. The transition tool, if it were really meant to improve privacy, should take you through each of the settings and explain what they do so you can make an informed decision. It should at least preserve your old privacy settings. But it doesn't. It selects Facebooks "recommended settings" which happen to be to share everything with the world, or at least that portion of the world that has Internet access. It does give you the option of keeping your old settings, but you have to consciously make the decision and click the selection for each setting, which is exactly backwards of the way it should be.

There are a couple of other options (or lack of options) that are cause for concern. You used to be able to hide things like your hometown and your birthday, but now the only way to hide them is to remove them from your profile. It also used to be possible to tell Facebook not to share information with Facebook apps. That option is no longer available, so now when one of your friends starts playing a game like Mafia Wars it can suck not only their information, but yours, too. That means, of course, that anytime you use a Facebook app you could be giving up all the information of everyone you have on your Friends list. So while overall the changes may have been good, the fact that you can compromise yourself and your friends by loading a facebook app is unforgivable. To make matters worse, the new privacy policy seems to be full of doublespeak that removes privacy assurances while appearing to give them.

I encourage you to go to Facebooks site governance page and tell them you don't approve the removal of privacy option and demand that we be given control of all of our information. Insist that the defaults should err on the side of privacy, not full disclosure. The ACLU also has a petition going to get the privacy settings changed. i would recommend signing it, as well.