Facebook today announced new features to address the criticism that is has faced recently for its privacy settings and processes. In December 2009 and then again in April this year, the site made a number of changes to its privacy options and settings. In essence they opened up more data to users beyond your friends and immediate networks and changed some of the default settings. This led to the situation where users had 50 different settings and 170 options to control the levels of access to and sharing of the data and information on their profiles.
As somebody with quite strict levels of access and privacy on Facebook, I know the complexity of these controls and the amount of time and effort needed to control access to your profile and your content. Sites like Openbook, which searches publicly viewable status updates, highlighting the vast amount of content that is out there for everybody to see. In many cases this isn’t because people have actively chosen to share this information outside their friendship groups and networks, but a result of not changing or fully managing your privacy settings.
What Facebook’s privacy changes mean
Today’s announcements are designed to make it simpler for users to see what their Facebook privacy settings are, and to manage them. The changes, to be rolled-out over the coming weeks, will mean that users will be able to:
- have one simple control over who sees their content – everybody, friends-of-friends or just your own friends
- easily see what their profile looks like to others
- opt out of sharing their information with third-party applications
- opt out of sharing your friends and pages
How easy the process will be, and how much you will actually be able to change will be fully understood as the new privacy settings roll-out, and there are already discussions about the ‘Recommended’ settings shown by Facebook. These will suggest that users share with everybody their status, photos and posts, biographies, family and relationship information. This may be more than some are willing to do.
The real test: will people manage their brand online
However, the real test of the new privacy settings will be the extent to which users actually make use of the ability to edit what they share about themselves and the information they add to Facebook. The previous settings did not help people to make these decisions and changes and to take control of their brand on Facebook without a lot of hassle. The power of the new changes will be if they encourage people to take control of their brand online. This may not mean that everybody stops sharing things, but is more likely to see people making sensible decisions about what they share and why. And this can only be a good thing.
We use social media tools, such as Facebook, for different reasons. Maybe we use it to keep up to date with school-friends, or maybe as a personal organiser for our lives right now, or maybe we just document our holidays with photos. Different people use Facebook for different reasons and so a single approach to privacy settings is not appropriate. That is why it is good that Facebook lets users manage their own settings – we each own our own brand online and should make sensible decisions about how we interact with and share from any social media tool we use.
The real test of the new privacy settings on Facebook will not be how many people share more or less of their data. The real test will be how many people take control of their personal brand and make sensible, and often personal, decisions about what to share, with whom and in what circumstances.
Image by jaycameron via Flickr