Sunday, December 27, 2009

FaceBook vs. YOUR Privacy - AKA Note: Your Friend List is always visible to you and your friends

The Facebook team, after apparently deciding that there wasn't enough excitement to its old privacy settings, made additional changes this week in an effort to appease users who have complained about the amount of their profile information that's available to the public. Ironically (or perhaps deliberately), these modifications mean that users now have even less control over the visibility of certain content to others. For instance, before the changes were made, Facebookers could designate certain "groups" of their contacts who could not see all or part their friends list. However, Facebook now displays a new notification when one tries to modify the settings on their friends list that "Your Friend List is always visible to you and your friends" (see screenshot image). Since these changes were completely unannounced, profile information that some users specifically designated as private and presumably still believe as such are now potentially visible to the public. In the eyes of many, this constitutes a serious breach of privacy. One can't help but wonder if Facebook will soon make other confidential information universally accessible, such as which profiles a user clicks on or messages sent to their Inbox.

This stir has caused some devoted users to seriously question their loyalty to the social networking site. Many have a wide variety of friends on their Facebook list and like to keep their personal and business contacts separate in some ways, such as being able to meet and stay in touch with business connections while simulataneously keeping their list of personal friends hidden from them. With these changes, that is no longer possible.

In addition, the new changes have made it much more difficult to control which types of a user's Facebook activity are automatically published as "News-Feeds" on their wall. As an example, it used to be possible for Facebook addicts to hide the notifications for adding friends and posting on other peoples' walls from being displayed in their profile, whereas now this appears to be impossible. This lapse in confidentiality was discovered by the exasperated Colnect founder Amir Wald when he checked his wall this morning. "Introducing changes that breach our privacy so blatantly and without a warning is nothing less than outrageous" said Mr. Wald, "We would never dream of doing such a thing to our devoted collectors community".

In order to maintain this element of privacy, Facebookers are now required to manually delete each of these notifications one-by-one from their walls, as opposed to the "Erase All" function that was available in past incarnations. The fact remains that users should not have to go out of their way to preserve the confidentiality of information that they previously took for granted, especially when many are not even aware about the automatic changes made to their settings.

These latest developments mark the latest concern with the site for internet privacy advocates. If Facebook keeps making Privacy changes, it needs to ensure that any strict privacy restrictions already established by existing users are not compromised in the process. Otherwise, many dedicated supporters may opt to pull the plug and end up displaying none of their personal information to anyone.


  1. I have had to simply deactivate my account because of this. It is as if the people who run Facebook are literally so naive that they cannot imagine how mutually incompatible relationships (exes, friends/colleagues, etc.) might cause a user significant trouble, or so bottom-line driven that they simply do not care about the fact that they are playing with people's lives by basically eviscerating the privacy settings. It's a shame--I will miss some of the interactions with people I kept in touch with via Facebook. But I will not have my life compromised by a bunch of coders in Palo Alto...

  2. I have been sent an invitation by someone I know to join Facebook. The invitation lists 6 names of: 'Other people you may know on Facebook:'

    In the 3 reminders of the invitation, each time I know 5 out of the 6 people, however, I am sure these people do not know each other.

    From where is Facebook getting these names? Of the thousands of people who probably use Facebook why choose these names? I have never used any of the social media websites like Facebook, Twitter etc.

    As I cannot ask FaceBook, does anyone have a suggestion?

  3. I'll jump in on this one.

    Allow me to comment on this "One can't help but wonder if Facebook will soon make other confidential information universally accessible, such as which profiles a user clicks on or messages sent to their Inbox."

    Facebook has steadily been distancing itself from just about every level on anonymity. The hypocrisy is that you can control your privacy settings (if you understand how they work and are notified when they are changed by Facebook) but Facebook themselves does not really do much to protect their users. You can block your profile from the search engines- but one of the most annoying issues is not being able to just login, create a pseudo-anonymous account to setup and anonymous community page. You "could" do the whole fake email thing- but you are not really anonymous. I wish Facebook would have more anonymous features like tumblr and formspring, at least some kind of anonymous messaging feature.


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