Facebook’s Latest Privacy Change

Kurt Opsahl at EFF dissects a blog post from Facebook describing a pending change. As far as I can tell, this change either has not been pushed out or is being done so unevenly. In a nutshell, Facebook is changing large blocks of your profile that were just arbitrary text into links to existing pages within the service. They are introducing community pages to address the randomness that this free form profile text injects.

The EFF post is a bit misleading though I don’t think it hurts to exaggerate in a way that encourages caution. The Facebook blog post they link mentions the privacy controls that will be added to control these new links out from your profile. Initially, these “connections” will be opt-in.

Kurt did do an excellent job of clarifying how the privacy settings will work if you opt-in but mark your new “connections” as private. You will still appear on the page to which you connected for anyone to see. The only thing the privacy controls will do is obscure it on your end, on your profile page.

I think Kurt makes another critical point, that this will instantly inflate membership on pages well beyond what is useful to its actual membership. It bolsters my view considerably that Facebook is far more motivated by the advertising opportunities than any value to their actual users.

A couple more things occur to me. First, why is Facebook describing this change in a blog post written by a developer? Why aren’t they making this much more prominent, making it sticky on people’s news streams or as a notification of some kind? Second, really a consequence of that first though, this change is going to catch a lot of folks by surprising. Undoubtedly many will opt-in without bothering to change their privacy settings. Those that do may not realize that the controls are a bit misleading. The connection to a page, the signal of interest, is what Facebook and its developers want, anyway, to better drive ads.

With each change, I strip my Facebook profile more bare. Kurt makes a good recommendation, that simply deleting information from your profile eliminates the possibility of it being misused. Some day, I strip it to the bone and realize it is time just to delete my account.

2 Replies to “Facebook’s Latest Privacy Change”

  1. I tested the “openness” of the new FB architecture by searching my name together with “facebook” on Google. It turns out that every post made on a group’s Wall by a FB user is now public and searchable. Granted, these were “public” before on FB — if you went to the group’s page, the Wall posts were viewable. But only via FB, by going to the group’s page. The content was not searchable ON FB by inputting the user’s name. Now the content is in public search records. So, if a user belongs to, say, a hiking group which organizes its activities on FB, and the user makes posts to arrange carpooling for X weekend to Y event on the group’s Wall, Google will show the content in a search result if you search the user’s name and “facebook”. When I did my test run I came up with one of the many small groups I belong to. There’s my information about arranging a carpool for three weekends I will be gone over the summer, now searchable via Google. What’s upsetting is that this applies retroactively to content already created, with no warning. This will be scrapeable via search robots. A user might as well post his or her travel plans and personal information on PleaseRobMe.com.

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