Tipping Pitches: Technology: Facebook Privacy: What You Should Know


Friday, December 11, 2009

Technology: Facebook Privacy: What You Should Know

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The new Facebook privacy controls, in particular the ability to determine your audience on a post-to-post basis, should make a big, positive difference in the way people communicate on Facebook.

In all likelihood, however, customizing privacy in this manner and maximizing its value will be used by a small minority. At least in the early going. The majority have accepted defaults in the past or made minor tweaks to their privacy.

This post is for that group of people.

Transition Tool: The New Defaults are More Public
Take your time when you go through the new settings with the transition tool for the first time. If you didn't take your time, go back and check.

If you haven't yet used the transition tool, the next portion is going to detail what to expect. Following are the new defaults when going through the transition tool. Please keep in mind, these are only the defaults. You can make each more restrictive, and if you made your settings more private than the defaults previously, your settings will continue to be private.

Everyone with an internet connection can now view it:
About Me (This is the paragraph you wrote about yourself in the Personal Information on your profile)
Family and Relationships (Family members, relationship status, interested in, and looking for)
Work and Education (Schools, colleges and workplaces)
Posts I create (Status updates, links, photos, videos and notes)

Friends and friends of your friends can view it:
Photos and videos of Me (Photos and Videos you've been tagged in, not the albums you created -- unless you are tagged in them)
Religious and Political Views

Only your friends can view it:
Email Address and IM
Phone Numbers

Keep in mind that if you accepted defaults before this latest change, you were not limiting all of this info to your friends only. "Everyone" was previously defined as everyone on Facebook. It is now everyone on the internet. I guess this begs the question: If you were comfortable sharing certain things with the 350 million people on Facebook, wouldn't you be willing to share it with the entire internet?

Then again, maybe you weren't comfortable sharing those things with everyone on Facebook and were unaware those things were available on such a large scale. That's one of the good things of this new change. It raises awareness so that people can go in and make changes as necessary.

The info that we can all agree needs to be kept private in most cases (contact information) remains only accessible to your friends. You can, of course, still keep this information from all or some of your friends. Or you can choose to open yourself up to more people.  Completely up to you.

I'm a private person. I don't want non-friends viewing my photos, intimate details of my life, or (in most cases) my posts. Since I previously was conscious of these things and customized my settings long before this latest change, those things would continue to remain private. See the screen shot to the right. This is how the settings looked when I went through the transition tool (click the image for a larger view).

As you can see, I'm not at risk here.  I did not click on "Old Settings" before taking this screen shot. Since I was conscious of my privacy before, I restricted access to everything.  Therefore, when the new privacy settings were transitioned, my old settings took control by default.

I understand, though, that not everyone is like me.  And you're probably in the majority who paid little attention to your privacy previously.  These are the people who need to pay the closest attention to the new settings.

If you accepted all defaults (or any defaults) before, you will lose privacy by continuing to accept Facebook's new defaults.  Are you comfortable with that?  You may be.  But you need to go through your settings to make sure that you are sharing what you want to share.

To the right is an example of someone who previously accepted defaults and is going through the transition tool for the first time.  If this person were to toggle everything to "Old Settings" I would assume (though I can't confirm) that privacy would be set the way they previously had it in these cases.

Of course, this is the transition tool we're looking at here, and chances are you've already gone through this process.  I highly recommend going back through your privacy settings to make sure they are set where you are comfortable.

Things to Keep in Mind
If you set "Posts by Me" to be viewable by only your friends, you can still change this on a case-by-case basis.  This simply means that going forward, you will post these things only to your friends unless you specify otherwise.

I think there may also be some confusion regarding photos. "Photos and Videos of Me" refers to photos and videos tagged of you. If you see that this is now set to "Everyone" it doesn't mean that your photo albums are now public for the world to see. Make sure to go to each individual album on your profile, click "Edit Photos" and then "Edit Info." Here it will show what your privacy settings are for that album.

Personally, I have a few albums that I restricted before this change. I checked those albums after the change and they remain private. In fact, I even logged in as someone else to confirm that they could not see them. Confirmed.

Does that mean that Facebook is bug free post-change? Nope. Honestly, I don't know if they are bug-free. But my guess (pure guess) is that many of the complaints right now come from a misunderstanding of their previous settings and the current settings. Bringing attention to people's privacy is bound to cause some concern.

Regardless, you should probably be careful in the early going. Double-check everything to make sure it's set the way you want, and test things out with someone you trust to make sure those things that are supposed to be private indeed are. You can't ever be too careful with your privacy.

The New Settings, After Transition
Ok, so you already went through the transition tool before and that page is no longer accessible. It also provided a more top level, basic view of your privacy.  To get a more granular view, check out your privacy settings. This page is separated into five groups:
  • Profile Information
  • Contact Information (Control who can contact you on Facebook and see your contact information and email)
  • Applications and Websites (Control what information is available to Facebook-enhanced applications and websites)
  • Search (Control who can see your search result on Facebook and in search engines)
  • Block List (Control who can interact with you on Facebook)
The Profile Information page is much of what we've already covered. This is where you control access to the following information (defaults are in parentheses):
  • About Me: About Me description in your profile (Everyone)
  • Personal Info: Interests, Activities, Favorites (Everyone)
  • Birthday (Friends of Friends)
  • Religious and Political Views (Friends of Friends)
  • Family and Relationship: Family Members, Relationship Status, Interested In, and Looking For (Everyone)
  • Education and Work: Schools, Colleges and Workplaces (Everyone)
  • Photos and Videos of Me: Photos and Videos you've been tagged in (Friends of Friends)
  • Photo Albums (Edit from album to album)
  • Posts by Me: Default setting for Status Updates, Links, Notes, Photos, and Videos you post (Everyone)
  • Allow Friends to Post on my Wall (Yes)
  • Posts by Friends: Control who can see posts by your friends on your profile (Friends of Friends)
  • Comments on Posts: Control who can comment on posts you create (Only Friends)
Personally, I restrict About Me, Personal Info, Birthday, Family and Relationships, Education and Work, and Comments on Posts to "Only Friends." I further restrict Religious and Political Views, Photos and Videos of Me, Posts by Me (by default) and Posts by Friends through the use of lists.

You can restrict or open all of these access points. Do yourself a favor and check them all out.

The Contact Information page lets you restrict some of the personal info that appears on your profile.  Again, defaults are in parentheses.
  • IM Screen Name (Only Friends)
  • Mobile Phone (Only Friends)
  • Other Phone (Only Friends)
  • Current Address (Only Friends)
  • Website (Everyone)
  • Home Town (Friends of Friends)
  • Add me as a friend: Control who can add you as a friend from search results and from your profile (Everyone)
  • Send me a message: Control who can send you a message from search results and from your profile (Everyone)
  • Individual e-mail addresses (Only Friends)
I don't think these defaults are all that unreasonable. Website is the only item I open to "Everyone" of this group. I set Home Town, Send me a Message, and my e-mail address to "Only Friends." I further restrict IM Screen Name, Mobile Phone, Other Phone and Current Address with lists.

The Applications and Websites page allows you to control how you share information with applications.
  • What you share: Learn about what you share when using applications and websites
  • What your friends can share about you: Control what your friends can share about you when using applications and websites (Personal info, status updates, online presence, website, education and work, my videos, my links, my notes, my photos, photos and videos of me, about me, my birthday, my hometown)
  • Blocked Applications: Block specific applications from accesing your information and contacting you
  • Ignore Application Invites: Ignore application invites from specific friends
There are certain types of information that Facebook applications need to make them social. I've limited that information to a point. You can select and deselect any of the information. I have blocked an application (Mafia Wars) and have yet to ignore application invites from any one friend. So far. Don't test me.

The Search page allows you to control how people can find you, both on and away from Facebook.
  • Facebook Search Results: Who can see your search result on Facebook (Everyone)
  • Public Search Results: Allow search engines to access your publicly available info and any information visible to Everyone (Checked to allow indexing)
I let "Everyone" find me in a Facebook search result. Otherwise, a friend from an isolated part of my life who does not have common friends -- or a new member who has yet to add friends -- will not be able to find me.  I also allow public search engines to index the information I leave as public, though you should consider whether this is necessary for you. I only do it because when I make something public, there is going to be a business reason behind it (promoting a product or service). In most cases, there is no reason for a typical person to do this.

That said, I also wouldn't be all that scared of search engine indexing, assuming you don't share too much as it is. Do a Google search of yourself and you'd be amazed by how much information about you can already be found.

Finally, the Block page allows you to block anyone from contacting you on Facebook by providing their name or e-mail address. Nope, I haven't blocked anyone. Yet.

In Conclusion: Why Did Facebook Make the Changes?
It's pretty obvious what Facebook is up to. They want to encourage users to share more information to make the site more social and readily available to search engines. Potential revenue streams come into play since they can syndicate the information that people want to make public.

I've heard a lot of people claim that the new "Posts by Me" default change to "Everyone" is an attempt to be like Twitter. Eh, I disagree. Is Twitter a factor? Sure. Facebook has the potential to offer everything that Twitter offers and 100 times more.  They can put Twitter out of business.

But there is also an opportunity for them to make money. And the success of Twitter shows that people are willing to share some, if not all, information with the world. Why not allow it?

Personally, I love the option. I went over the advantages in detail yesterday.

That said, I acknowledge it's a dangerous move. Although we've set the precedent that we're willing to share quite a bit of information on Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, MySpace and other sites, Facebook started as a very private network. Those who expect it to remain completely private without making adjustments to their privacy settings are in for a rude awakening.

Can you retain Facebook as a private experience between you and your friends? Absolutely! But you need to be conscious of the Facebook changes. You can't play ignorant. Protect the information that you feel needs protecting.


Mandy Blumreich on December 11, 2009 said...

Excellent break-down Jon! I shared with my FB friends - as I know that at least some of them are not aware of the info they are making public and some are overwhelmed by the thought of "complicated" settings.

Jon Loomer on December 11, 2009 said...

Thanks, Mandy. I know not everyone spends as much time as we do with this stuff, so it's those people I'm worried most about. If people make good use of these new settings, Facebook is going to be an even better place. If too many people are lazy about it, I can see a lot of people getting burned and leaving or just getting scared off by the service. Hopefully a little education will help.

Nate said...

My Posts by Me are set to Everyone. Is there a way to make things private such as Commenting/Liking a friend's status or becoming friends with someone?

Jon Loomer on December 11, 2009 said...

Nate -- Is it intentional that all of your statuses, photos, and links are viewable to everyone on Facebook and everyone on the internet? Just making sure you know what "Everyone" means in this case. If you're careful about what you share or have a business purpose for sharing, "Everyone" could make sense in all cases.

Your commenting is out of your control since you are commenting on someone else's status, photo or link. It will be up to them who can see your comments on their content. Look at it this way -- if people could only see certain comments, it could get confusing in a hurry when someone responds to those comments within the string. Liking would fall under this category.

Facebook changed their mind on whether becoming a friend with someone is "news" in the last redesign. It formerly went into news feeds, then came out, and is now back in. There is no way (that I know of) to stop that universally, but you can delete each individual announcement from your profile. I believe that this would keep that info out of your friends' feeds. Something to consider, but not sure it's worth it.

Nate said...

Ok here is my problem. Yes, I set the controls to "everyone." The reasoning is that I write a weekly note that I would like available to Everyone. I put my privacy settings for posts on "only friends" and put the note settings to "everyone." However, after logging on an account of someone who is not my friend, I still could not access the note. I posted a new note as a test and added the Notes tab. Still no luck.

I found that if I put the settings at Everyone, I can still control my status updates. I just have to change that manually every time I update my status. (Which is quite easy to do - just click the "lock" picture right next to the "share" button.) Same with any posted links.

So really, the only thing it appears I cannot control, set as Everyone, is the annoying little friend additions and comment posts.

Jon Loomer on December 11, 2009 said...

Nate -- If a person does not have access to Posts by you, they will not see the Notes tab on your profile, even if you give them access to a specific Note (you can't give them access to notes globally without giving them access to all posts). However, they should have access to the individual note through a link.

Here's an example that I just tested (I use lists for Notes, too). I apply a list "Good Friends" to my posts and a list of "Notes" to a specific note. Here's what happens in each scenario for my wife:

"Good Friend" and "Notes" lists: Access to Notes tab, access to individual restricted note.

Not "Good Friend" but on "Notes" list: No access to Notes tab, but access to individual restricted note through a link.

"Good Friend" but not "Notes" list: Access to Notes tab, but no access to individual restricted note.

Not either "Good Friend" or "Notes" lists: No access to Notes tab or restricted link.

Does that make sense? Although your situation is a little different since you're dealing with non-friends. Are you saying that a non-friend can't access the direct link? I guess I can see why that could be a problem. It may be an exception to Facebook's settings. Since Notes are buried inside of your profile and you restrict your profile, I think I can see why that could pose a problem.

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