/ Technology

Privacy fatigue hits Facebook. Have you updated your settings?

Being Which? Computing editor, I’m privileged that Facebook notifies me when it’s about to make one of its myriad changes to its privacy settings via a press release. Even then, I struggle to keep up – do you?

This year, for example, Facebook’s privacy changes included rewriting its privacy policy, introducing a new feature to automatically “tag”’ photographs, updating its settings to give you more granular control over your privacy, allowing third party apps to access personal information – including your phone number – if made public and the introduction of a “Pending Wall”.

These changes, says Facebook, all improve your online privacy; the policy is more accessible and interactive, granular control means you can decide what to share with individual friends based on your relationship with them, and the Pending Wall means you can check information about you, like tagged photos, before it appears online.

When did you last update your settings?

All of this may be true, but often these changes mean that in order to regain control of our privacy we have to manually adjust Facebook’s privacy settings and many users – including myself – are struggling to keep up.

A recent survey in our Which? Computing magazine found that 48% of the Facebook users we asked agreed with the statement: ‘I can’t keep up with the number of changes Facebook has made to its data security settings’.

Meanwhile, 19% of users told us that they had never updated their Facebook privacy settings. And on average people have only updated privacy settings twice.

Too many changes cause “privacy fatigue”

Facebook’s ever-moving privacy goalposts could be leading to privacy fatigue, according to our scientific policy advisor Rob Reid:

‘Many Facebook users have never changed their privacy settings and, those who have do it far less often than Facebook makes changes. This may reflect a disregard or lack of awareness for privacy, or, more worryingly, privacy fatigue stimulated by the dizzying number of changes.’

Personally, I think it’s good that Facebook is prepared to make changes where its users demand it. But I don’t think it’s getting its message across in a way that people can understand.

Often the first I hear of a change is either via a press release or, ironically, from a Facebook friend who’s just happened to stumble across it. And that’s not good enough.

That said, when I do stumble across a change, I make sure I update my settings accordingly. After all it’s my privacy that’s at stake. So, when did you last update your settings?


Typically, I only update my settings when alerted to something I might not like about them by a friend’s post. I will look at them every so many months anyway, but they always appear to be retained as I’ve requested.

However, the one thing I don’t like is that I must have given or shown FB to my phone number at some point. It keeps appearing on my info page and I keep removing it. I can easily give it to a friend if asked, so I’ve no reason to wish for it to be generally available. But I had to remove it again on checking today – it seems it’s added every week or three!

I have only just joined Facebook and have carefully gone through my privacy settings. As far as telephone numbers are concerned I have noticed that they can be removed (which I assume dave b has tried). There’s also a setting to make it visible to “only me” which may go some way to making it invisible to all and sundry.