I posted earlier this week (see Privacy, Social Media, Targeting and Marketing: Poked and Pwnd) about recent updates on privacy practices online. Noted was Facebook’s announcement that users would be asked to update their settings to allow better and easier controls for users over their posted information. Facebook users were certainly asked yesterday to update their settings: but I had to blink twice. The update screen gave the choice (i) to keep the user’s old, often customized settings (e.g. restricted to friends only and/or with other customizations for restricted access) or (ii) to allow viewers to access more information about the user than before (such as everyone, or friends of friends). Where the privacy controls had been “upgraded” was not clear to me. Furthermore, the Independent reports that some privacy advocates are criticizing Facebook for pushing users to expose even more of their information than ever before.
Slate today reports a further strange development: was it as a result of the privacy setting updates, or for some other reason, that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg suddenly began sharing his entire profile? According to Gawker.com apparently including over 290 personal photos of Mr. Zuckerberg suddenly became viewable, and Gawker.com posted a selection of them in an online gallery.
In today’s online version of the site’s page A guide to privacy on Facebook, Facebook makes various recommendations to users about the level of their privacy settings. Curiously, rather than emphasizing the ability to tightly restrict viewing of their information, Facebook’s recommendations include:
“We recommend Everyone be able to see information that will make it easier for friends to find, identify and learn about you. This includes basic information like your About Me description, Family and Relationships, Work and Education Info, and Website, as well as posts that you create, like photo albums and status updates.”
“Some information is more personal, so we recommend Friends of Friends be able to see that type of info. This includes the settings for your Birthday, Religious and Political views, Hometown, and Photos and Videos of Me, which is all the photos and videos you’ve been tagged in.”
“We are committed to protecting minors who use Facebook. Until their eighteenth birthday, minors will have their information limited to Friends of Friends and Networks.”
Although the page recommends that contact information be limited to viewing by Friends only, the page’s recommendations to share more personal information with those who are not Friends, the defaults for minors being set to groups wider than Friends, and the recent settings update initiative, seems to conflict with the purpose of upgrading privacy settings to allow for better control, or restrictions, on what others can view. On one hand, Facebook can be lauded for giving the users many options to restrict closely the level of access to their information. On the other hand, it’s not clear that the latest changes make users aware of this functionality, or make it easy for them to put these controls in place.