Well, If you haven't heard, on December 9, 2009 Facebook has changed how it handles privacy on its social network. If you do not think that concerns you, I believe that you should think again. I took some time this evening to look and see what Facebook "opened up" on my behalf (and without my [and your] permission I might add) and I was frankly stunned to see how much of my information, photos, thoughts, friends, etc were now completely available to the world, and to search engines like Google and Bing.
Go, go on, login to Facebook and see how you feel… now.
When you login, Facebook will present you with a popup stating that its privacy settings have changed, and offering you the possibility to revert some of the settings back to the "old settings". So, initially you will feel comfortable… Unfortunately, I completed this task without grabbing a screen shot (sorry) but suffice it to say, I was glad to see some of the top of mind privacy settings were right there in front of me… I thought, "ok, this is not so bad, I can switch a number of settings (like contact information, work, phone numbers which were NOW defaulted to "EVERYONE") back to the "old settings" and all will be ok…" If you have done this as well, I'd recommend reading a bit closer, and if you have not, here is a bit of a "heads up."
Personally, my first indicator that I needed look a bit further into the privacy settings was the fact that Photo's in that first menu had an "Edit settings" button as opposed to the simple radio button to "old settings" but, like many I glossed over it initially… then just as I was going to press the "Submit" button, I read a little blurb about "external applications" being able to display personal contact information including my address, phone numbers, etc. even if I have chosen "Only Friends" for these settings on Facebook itself… Woah WHAT?! Also, note that this was written off to the side of the page, and the bottom, but in a very very light grey that almost blends into the background when you are not paying close attention. Really, I think that it is easy to over look this information and I think Facebook did this intentionally.
After submitting your changes (and feeling a bit more comfortable that you are "safe" again), Facebook pops up a little reminder that you can change these and OTHER privacy settings from the Settings Menu… but, access to this is NOT available from the actual menu itself! They are only available when you mouse over the word Settings on the screen, then an overlay will drop down where "Privacy Settings" is accessible from; simply move your mouse cursor down to Privacy Settings and left click to access.
Ok, now you will see the FULL level of choices for all of the Privacy Settings for your account.
GO THROUGH EACH OF THESE ITEMS! You will be amazed at all of the settings you "thought" would have been defaulted to "Only Friends" based on your previous choices… some (quite a few actually) are now set to Everyone. Be sure to look closely at both the Personal Information Section, Contact Information, and Applications and Websites… Here are some screens of what I found:
Be sure to look through the settings for ALL of your photo albums!
Check closely the settings for your contact information:
Finally look really closely as what information the applications you use are presenting to the world"
Be sure to look at the "Additional Settings" link on the Apps pages…
Really, you NEED to go through all of these settings to ensure that Facebook is not compromising your privacy and possibly your personal security and safety as well.
That said, while I am focusing on what I feel was a breach of my privacy without my permission, this form of granular permission levels really do provide the user with a strong way to share only the information you wish while keeping everything else hidden… However, I disagree with how Facebook handled the situation. As opposed to erring on the side of caution, starting with everything as secure as possible, Facebook (for possibly profit reasons you think?!) defaulted to almost everything being open to everyone. In an interview with WGN this morning, a Tribune reporter discussed Facebook's privacy changes and he related part of this move was to meet the demand for instant access to real-time information. He felt that soon Google searches will begin serving up Facebook status updates and twitter posts that have to do with subjects a person is searching… This should be concerning if nothing else from this blog post is…
So, what is Facebook officially saying about all of this? Well, they have expanded their Privacy FAQ page, and have created "A guide to privacy on Facebook." Here are a couple of excerpts from the Guide:
In relation to their recommendations"
"We recommend Everyone be able to see information that will make it easier for friends to find, identify and learn about you. This includes basic information like your About Me description, Family and Relationships, Work and Education Info, and Website, as well as posts that you create, like photo albums and status updates."
So, go out there and look into preserving your privacy. I know that I have restricted just about everything to "Only Friends" and if I have cut anyone off, I apologize in advance, but I am trying to learn more about what I am actually exposing to the world before I actually open things back up again.
[update] ZDNet just posted an article on Google Beefing Up Search which is what I referenced above. Here is a quote from that article and video they used in the presentation to the press.
"It’s a very cool enhancement that makes search – just your regular everyday queries on the regular Google home page – much richer. In the demo, the company typed a search for “Obama” and came back with a number of results, as one might expect. But within the results is a real-time stream, if you will, that scrolls with the most-up-to date results – blogs being posted, tweets being sent, news articles being published. (See video at bottom of this post for better understanding of how this works.)"
On the one hand, I think that this is a really cool enhancement for search overall. Being able to get real-time information and "nearby" information is a move in the right direction… however, it should not be at your privacy or trolling and presenting your personal information without you giving express permission.