Tools for Understanding the Impact of and Dealing with Facebook’s Privacy Settings

Mike Melanson at RWW was just one of several people I saw mention a new tool today, one that can assess your privacy settings on Facebook and help you fix them. Melanson has answers to the important questions.

The site and bookmarklet are the creation of software engineer Matt Pizzimenti and is completely open-source and hosted on GitHub. According to the website, will “never see your Facebook data” and will “never share your personal information”. The scanner operates entirely on the client side in the user’s browser, it says.

Click through to the web site and follow the simple instructions to install the bookmarklet. I did and then run it while logged into Facebook. For me, there was only one problem flagged. Unfortunately, the bookmarklet could not fix the issue. I used the link it provided to see the settings for myself and confirm that they were of minimal worry. I could easily change them if I became concerned about what I was allowing.

As some have asked in response to this clever bit of work by Pizzimenti, if a third party can do this, why isn’t something like this part of Facebook itself?

If you want to assess how badly poorly chosen settings are leaking more directly, Sarah Perez also at RWW highlights a tool for querying publicly available data. The tool, OpenBook, isn’t targeted, unfortunately, at allowing you to plugin in your own profile and see what is available. Rather, you can search for terms and phrases and see who might be sharing sensitive or private updates.

If you remain unconvinced by the collective hand wringing in the infosphere over Facebook, OpenBook may just convince you that we are not all Cassandras or Chicken Littles. The project’s about page makes it clear that the developers, Will Moffat and Peter Burns, are only using public and blessed APIs from the social network provider. (You can grab their sources to confirm that, too.) In other words, they didn’t have to break any software or use anything nefarious to drum up this data. Anyone with a modicum of programming skill can pull out this data for any purpose using little more than a browser and a little bit of JavaScript.

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