Facebook has come in for some criticism over its policies regarding users’ personal privacy, and with good reason. It’s less about what it does with your data than what it decides to tell you it’s doing. You may think you’re in control of what personal information you share, but unless you go in and re-check your Privacy Settings regularly, you’re not.
The latest and biggest web trend is socialisation and personalisation of your online experience, and Facebook is leading the charge. What started out as a cool way to let friends around the world know what you’re doing, sharing your holiday snaps and so on is becoming something more. Other websites you may visit will offer to log you in via Facebook, or “Connect” to Facebook, so that they can “personalise” your experience. And they do what they promise–after a fashion: on Spotify for instance I can see my Facebook friends who have also “connected”, and we can share playlists. That’s quite neat.
It’s in Facebook’s interest to encourage as much information sharing as possible. If you open yourself up in the name of socialisation and personalisation then I would argue that Facebook gains more than you do, because they can then get more partnership deals with other vendors in exchange for the information they hold about you.
I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad thing, but I am saying that you should think carefully and be aware of what you are electing to share, and what the implications of that might be. My criticism of Facebook is that it makes a lot of noise about the benefits of The Social Network but keeps suspiciously quiet about changes it makes to privacy options and their default settings.
Facebook makes the following (true) statements:
- “We recommend sharing of information in order to improve the social and personal aspects of your web experience”
- “You remain in control of what information Facebook shares with others”
The third thing they should emphasise but don’t, is:
- “Any new ‘feature’ we add to information sharing will be turned on by default, so if you don’t check your settings regularly your information will gradually be made public”.
Go and check your Facebook privacy settings. Now. If you’re not already on this you may be surprised by what you find.
I went into mine the other day and I noticed three things: one good, two bad. The good thing is that my previous settings–restricting access to my private data to Friends only–was still in effect. The two ‘bad’ things that I hadn’t been previously aware of:
- Photo albums–you may have restricted access to your existing photo albums, but any new albums you created since doing that will be available to Everyone until you manually change it here. Album by album. This setting is also conspicuously small and easy to miss.
- “Info accessible through your friends”–this is the Biggie. Essentially this ‘feature’ gives all Facebook apps and partner websites the same access to your information that your friends have, whenever any of your friends uses them. You’ll want to pay particular attention to the “Apps & Websites” page.
The top feature lists those parts of your info that can be accessed by apps and websites through your friends’ behaviour, and everything is turned on by default.
So essentially what Facebook is doing (without telling you) is giving all apps and websites connected to Facebook “Friend” access to your stuff every time one of your friends uses the app/site. You may be OK with that, but I’m not. I’ve turned all of these off.
I’m in favour of The Social Web in general but the sneaky way in which Facebook undermines your prior restrictions by adding new ‘features’ is annoying and in my view a breach of trust. Maybe this is why Facebook has overtaken Google as the site people spend most time on!