/ Technology

Facebook’s new privacy settings – cure or curse?

Social networking

The wait is finally over and we can see the results of all the Facebook fuss. They’ve “listened carefully” (their words, not ours) and we now have a new privacy model. But is it enough to keep us happy?

As Mark Zuckerberg explains, the new settings are designed to make things simpler.

On this count the changes are successful – there’s now a single control for all your content and you have more power over the controls on your basic information.

The good

There are also some great new features; we’re particularly happy to see the ‘carry over’ of your chosen settings when a new website feature is launched. So if you decide to share feeds and photos with just your friends, all future settings will be set to friends-only too.

And you now have the option to make your friends list private. Handy if you don’t want third parties to find out who your friends are (think developers spamming you with apps or people finding you through Google). And if all those application and game invites drive you mad (you’re not alone), there’s now the option to opt out and block them entirely. Good stuff.

The bad

Still, where it falls short is in its default settings. Yes, you can control all your directory settings from a single page and we can’t deny it’s straightforward to use and reset them. But there’s a mighty chunk of information set to appear to everyone by default.

All the basic directory information, including your friends list, hometown and interests are set to be accessible to everyone, along with your status, photos and posts. So if you don’t like your life being public, you’re forced to opt out of sharing your information rather than opting in.

And the rather ugly…

If you’re finding it hard to visualise what this all means, we stumbled across this handy illustration to help you. It charts Facebook’s history of default privacy settings over the past five years, and it’s pretty revealing stuff.

As you scroll down through the years the circle gradually gets filled up, representing the shift towards more open information by default. It hasn’t been updated since the recent changes, but we’ve cross-referenced it and they don’t make much difference.

Whatever you think about all this, the most important thing to remember is to double check the settings in your account. If you haven’t done so since the last time Facebook made changes, some of your information could be open to everyone without your knowledge. In other words, you’ll only get perfect privacy settings if you ask for them.

Richard Kinley says:
15 July 2010

The only sensible approach to these social networking sites is to assume that anything you post can be seen by anyone else as, to all intents and purposes, you can't prevent it. Users should understand this and, if they don't like it, don't join.

Sophie Gilbert says:
28 July 2010

I agree with Richard Kinley. I assume that anything I post can probably be seen by the whole world, so I haven’t recorded any private details in my page. I also (try) never (to) post silly things either, because for example potential employers (or your own) can look you up on Facebook, as I’m sure some of them do. With freedom to network and have fun comes responsibility, like with any other type of freedom.