Facebook has again broadened the reach of its community, this time by making some user content freely available to "everyone" on the Internet. The social network announced the changes December 1 in an open letter.
Users have control over what data is publicly searchable, though Facebook provides them with recommended "public" settings. Reactions to the changes have not been all sunshine and light.
Here's Facebook's definition of what "everyone" means:
Information set to 'everyone' is publicly available information, may be accessed by everyone on the Internet (including people not logged into Facebook), is subject to indexing by third party search engines, may be associated with you outside of Facebook (such as when you visit other sites on the internet), and may be imported and exported by us and others without privacy limitations. The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to "everyone." You can review and change the default settings in your privacy settings. If you delete "everyone" content that you posted on Facebook, we will remove it from your Facebook profile, but have no control over its use outside of Facebook.
Essentially, Facebook has simplified privacy settings that allow users to customize who sees personal content. This is broken down by each category of the profile (About Me, Photo Albums, etc.) To update privacy settings, users first visit the new Privacy Center, which gives in-depth explanations of how to manage the settings. The next section allows users to customize who can view your account and what part they can see. The customization is so specific that, for example, I could customize my political settings to be private to most, but reveal my affiliation to appropriate people who might hire me in a politically-slanted job. The final step includes a confirmation, with a link to learn more about privacy settings. An explanation from The Facebook Blog even includes a how-to video.
But with a social network that started out as a "walled garden," will the Facebook community revolt?
Mashable commented on Zuckerberg's letter saying:
...now those changes will affect privacy settings, and it seems that Zuckerberg and Co. want to be sure that nobody is taken by surprise. We know what happens when you take Facebook users by surprise.
Mashable was, of course, referring to the September 2006 Facebook facelift that created the news-feed feature. That particular announcement created enormous backlash: Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable, described Facebook users as "a conservative bunch who don't welcome radical change."
Here's what others are saying about this most recent change:
Dark Reading, an online security blog:
What Facebook is actually saying is that if you make your information available to 'everyone,' you'll actually be making it available to 'everyone, forever. Even if you later change your mind, you'll find it's too late.
Electronic Frontier Foundation:
These new "privacy" changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data.
Under the new regime, Facebook treats [friends' lists] — along with your name, profile picture, current city, gender, networks, and the pages that you are a 'fan' of — as 'publicly available information' or 'PAI.' Before, users were allowed to restrict access to much of that information. Now, however, those privacy options have been eliminated.
But not everything is negative. The EFF praises Facebook for stressing the importance of privacy control to the public.
...users should never forget that Facebook remains, at heart, not a community but a Silicon Valley startup, always hungry for exponential growth and new revenue streams. So be sure to review those new privacy 'options,' and take Facebook's recommendations with a huge grain of salt.
Facebook is spinning the news (of the privacy changes) as a win for users. They're supposedly getting more control than ever over what they're sharing, and it's easier than ever to control it.
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