Thursday, December 10, 2009

Facebook's new path to privacy (or not)

Facebook today pushed out its new and improved privacy settings, under the guise of giving users "more control" over their information. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a pretty good rundown of the "good, the bad, and the ugly" here. Another useful commentary can be found at ReadWriteWeb, and as it appears to be a running one it's probably worth watching. For the snarky side of the story, El Reg has a nice sarcastic spin. There's plenty more coverage of this Big Event; these are just a few that topped my own reading list.

At a surface scratching, the good does indeed appear fairly good, but the bad has the potential to be very bad if you don't pay close attention to what you're doing (c'mon, social networking is about getting everyone else to pay close attention to what you're doing), and the ugly, examined closely, looks to give Freddy Krueger a comparative cuteness score of 9.5 on a scale of 10.

First things first though, and since I have a Facebook account myself (against my better judgment), time to get hands on with this Brave New Facebook World.

Okay, so I start by seeing a "Privacy Announcement":
"We're making some changes to give you more control of your information and help you stay connected. We've simplified the Privacy page and added the ability to set privacy on everything you share, from status updates to photos."
Liar, liar, pants on fire!!

With that knee jerk reaction out of the way, I am amused by how they throw giving me more control of my information into the same sentence as helping me stay connected. Facebook is going to make money via the latter, not the former. Ergo, it's the latter I'm going to pay close attention to - that's where their attention is focused, I'm sure.
"At the same time, we're helping everyone find and connect with each other by keeping some information—like your name and profile picture—publicly available."
Ah HA. Now we're talking, or at least they are. Thank you SO much for "helping" everyone, including me, by deciding for me to "keep" some of my information publicly available.

Unfortunately I don't use Facebook often enough to remember exactly what information I had previously decided to NOT keep publicly available, only that I had my settings cranked to paranoid. But that's okay. Facebook knows what's best for me.
"The next step will guide you through choosing your privacy settings. You can learn more about how privacy works here."
Riiiight. Let's see how this "guide" works.

Looks like my Old Settings pretty much run counter to Facebooks recommendations, other than Email Addresses and IM, and Address, which we seem to agree should be shared with Friends. Evidently in Old Settings I had not specified Only Friends, but I'm sure Facebook and I also agree on the difference between the two, and hopefully at some point they'll explain it to me. I trust them, really I do. Not enough, however, to take any of their other recommendations.

I do award them a point for putting an obvious truth in writing, although they fudged the wording ever so slightly. It's still close enough for government work, and a nice bit of CYA.

I changed the email/IM setting anyway, just to see what happened.

Cool, now my email and IM are set to Only friends. I do still have to wonder what separates the new privacy setting of "Friends" from the old privacy setting of "Only Friends". It seems there is a difference, or else why would there even be an option to change it? Facebook doesn't seem inclined to clarify that. Meh, whatever.
DISCLAIMER: The Privacy Settings Screen did NOT say "email and IM screen name" for Only friends can see, nor "EVERYTHING ELSE" for custom settings. That's my own screenshot tweak. If I want my email and IM screen name limited to only friends, I'm not gonna turn around and post 'em here in a screenshot (besides, you can find what info I'm willing to share via this blog in my profile :)). And the finer details of what all I choose to keep private really isn't anybodys business (except mine and Facebooks). If you're that curious, go check your own Facebook Privacy settings. In view of what's going down, you really should do that anyway.
Having made that recommendation, I am both out of time and Facebooked-out, so my own under the hood digging regarding the new and improved privacy settings will have to wait. I've little doubt it will prove...educational.

Oh, that bit of obvious truth that Facebook fudged ever so slightly?

Facebook version:
"Information you choose to share with Everyone is available to everyone on the internet"
Well, like I said, they're close.

Here's the real version:
"Information you choose to share with Everyone is available to everyone on the internet"
Folks, out there on the intarwebs, that is as private as it gets.


  1. I've been following the blog All Facebook:

  2. Thanks for the link, Nick, good stuff. The 3rd party app developers and the affiliate marketers have got to be quivering with visions of the data motherlode.

    I need to check my dog's Facebook privacy settings. That big doofus will slobber on anyone who stands still for it. I just bet he cheerfully slapped the "everyone" default and I'll get some line about how it was accidental cos he's overdue for a Pedipaws session. Whatever.