Tipping Pitches: Technology: Why Facebook Privacy Controls are Awesome


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Technology: Why Facebook Privacy Controls are Awesome

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By now, you've undoubtedly heard about Facebook's controversial new privacy rules and settings, whether you read a scathing warning or simply stumbled upon the announcement while logging into the social networking service.

This blog entry is not going to venture into the area of protecting your privacy and whether or not you should immediately delete your account and run away screaming. I'll leave that up to everyone else.  It's a popular subject.  People love to complain.

No, this entry is going to focus on how you can make best use of the new controls and how they can greatly enhance your Facebook experience. Scare tactics aside, the new controls are a really good thing, if used properly.

In other words, the new Facebook privacy controls are awesome.  After reading this, I hope that you'll agree.

Now join me as I share with you how I'll be using these new controls and why they make me so giddy. Additionally, I will briefly discuss my few concerns about them and what it is I'm doing to protect myself.

A New World has Opened
Make no mistake, I'm a big Facebook user. Love the service. By far my all-time favorite website. Like many of you, it's because of Facebook that I have reconnected with so many people who may have otherwise disappeared from my life. It's a wonderful way to maintain and enhance relationships as well as build a professional network.

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One problem, however, was the "all or nothing" privacy controls. I have used those (now former) controls, absolutely. I have a mixture of good friends, casual friends, people I barely know or don't know at all, relatives, and professional contacts.

The problem with having a diverse group of Facebook friends is determining how and what you will share.  Previously, I could create lists that would allow me to decide how I was going to share universally. One list could see my status updates and links. Certain lists could see specified photo albums. Certain lists could comment on my wall and read comments from others. Certain lists couldn't see anything at all, and I wonder how friending me could be all that beneficial.

I'm a relatively private person. That said, I hated that every status and every link had a universal rule.

That changes now. From post to post, status to status, link to link, I can determine who sees it. This is awesome.

To do this, I went to my Friends page and created the following lists:
  • Good Friends
  • Politics
  • Sports
Trust me, it took some time to decide on these.  I actually created a few more levels at first before deciding I was overdoing it.

My "Good Friends" list includes people I know well and with whom I'm comfortable sharing just about everything.  While this may include a couple of people I know professionally, there are very few.  These are relationships that won't be altered by what I am sharing.

Everyone needs to create a Politics list!  This is one subject that can end friendships and at least cause problems on Facebook.  I've begun hiding people who incessantly share political subjects that oppose mine.  Not because I'm not willing to listen to others' point of view, but it's just not what Facebook is all about.  Presenting information in a fair way is fine. But attacking the opposition -- the position that many of your friends hold -- is just not a cool thing to do. Some have crossed the line to disrespectful.

And I also realize that those who oppose my political views don't want to see my constant ramblings either.  I'm saving them from the torture.  Therefore, the only people who appear in my Politics list and will view my political links and rants are those who I know won't mind it.

Finally, the Sports list might offer me the most new opportunities for connections.  There are dozens of people (maybe a hundred or more) who previously could not see any of my status updates.  Poor souls.  Many of these people, though, I know from my previous career in sports.  Sports is a huge part of my life, and it's a rather innocuous subject.  When I write a new sports-related blog entry or just feel like spouting off about sports, I can now select my Sports list to view it.

This is beneficial in two ways.  First, if I know you don't care about sports, I'm not bugging you with this nonsense.  Second, I may not have previously shared anything with you, but I know that this information may be valuable to you.  I can build these relationships and also find new readers for my blog.

Using lists in this way is not only beneficial for me, but it should also make me a more interesting "friend." If I don't think you want to hear about what I'm going to share, I spare you. I will also be sharing with others I hadn't previously. I share more info, you're more likely to enjoy what I share. Everyone wins.

All Friends and Everyone
As mentioned above, I previously shared links and statuses with a very small group.  Now I can target specific content to those who may find it interesting while continuing to protect sensitive information.

Every time I post something, I can now select a list.  Additionally, I can decide that something is safe enough to send to all of my friends, even if I don't know them particularly well.  This, of course, will be used sparingly, but it's a nice option to have.

The option to share something with "Everyone" -- including the non-Facebook world -- is a bit scary, but get over that initial fear if you have a product to market.  This is huge for business people.

While my Facebook account is personal and is all about interacting with people who are a part of my life, part of my life includes my career.  Now if I'm going to share something that, for example, promotes the More Birthdays iPhone app, I can share it with Everyone.

Who can see that?  Literally everyone.  If I choose (and I did), I can have publicly shared information indexed by search engines.  So if I share the application with "Everyone" it will appear when someone runs a search away from Facebook.  Instant marketing.  Awesome!

Put it this way. If you use Twitter, you can be comfortable with the "Everyone" option when it seems reasonable on Facebook. You're sharing with the world on Twitter. You've set the precedent that you're comfortable sharing that piece of information. Why not share that same info with the world on Facebook?

The beauty of this is that, although you always share with the world on Twitter (or don't if you have a private account), you have the option on Facebook on a post-by-post basis. It's beautiful.

Be Careful
I embrace Facebook's changes because I know what I'm doing.  I was already using privacy settings before, I'm a relatively private person, and I'm very conscious of what I'm sharing and with whom I'm sharing it.

Much of the negative press surrounding the Facebook changes focuses on certain information now becoming completely public: Name, gender, location, list of friends, and list of fan pages.  Of course, this isn't entirely true. 

If you choose, you can determine that only friends or friends of friends can find your search result on Facebook.  Additionally, you can choose to not allow public search engines to index the information you choose to be public (by default, it is not allowed for my account, though not clear if this is the case for all).

So, immediately, you can cut this off at the head and not let any of your personal information be viewable outside of the network you choose.

In response to feedback, Facebook has already made it so that your friends list no longer appears when performing a public search (not logged into Facebook). You can also keep your friends list from being viewable from non-friend Facebook users by removing them from view on my profile. So, this should no longer be an issue. Either way, I don't quite understand why people cared so much initially considering that Twitter users publicly follow 2,000 people without issue, but anyway.

Facebook fan pages are similar. They are visible on your profile to anyone logged in to Facebook, but those pages are not currently appearing for those not logged in. Now, I'm not particularly thrilled with the idea of making my fan pages available on my public profile.  Even though it's possible to find what pages I fan if you aren't my friend, listing five pages on my public profile is a little unnerving. 

How did I solve this?  I simply went through my fan pages and removed anything that I didn't want to appear on my public profile.  Of course, this will likely significantly alter how people decide to become a fan of a page.  Until now, most of us did it without much thought.  That changes, since what you fan will help determine your public persona.

I'm comfortable with what is now publicly viewable.  But again, you can choose to limit the reach of your profile on Facebook and prevent it from being indexed on public search engines.

Will people unknowingly and foolishly share too much information?  Will Facebook face a battle and likely lawsuits?  I'd bet on it.  But if you know what you're doing, embrace the change.

In Conclusion
There is so much to like about the new privacy options.  If you are conscious of your privacy and already customize how you share information, the changes are nothing but good news for you.  This is a game changer that can help people become closer to those they previously neglected.  Networks and friendships will be strengthened.  Some will leverage the "Everyone" option to improve their marketing reach.

While I fully support these changes, make no mistake: Setting everything up for the first time takes a lot of work.  If you have a few hundred (or more) friends who need to be placed into lists, you're going to be spending some time creating those lists.  And the controls, though now simpler, still require your attention.

Despite what you've heard, this does not mark the end of your privacy on Facebook.  You will simply need to be smart and even strategic about how you adjust your settings and share going forward.  After your lists and controls are set, it's smooth sailing.

Hopefully you, too, will then realize what has become obvious to me: This is awesome.


rachel said...

I share with everyone I'm friends with, including this blog! I guess we'll find out if they've already hidden my posts, or actually look at what I share.

Jon Loomer on December 10, 2009 said...

Nice! It's actually kinda liberating for me to have this much control now. Before, I had to make a decision to either seriously limit who could see what I post or be very careful about what I said at all times. I only shared links and statuses with just over half of my friends, and now I get to share -- at least something -- with all of them. It can only be a good thing.

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