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Dec. 10 2009 - 1:23 pm | 233 views | 2 recommendations | 7 comments

The world freaks out over Facebook’s new privacy settings

ZOMG. Have you heard about the latest move by Facebook? If you haven’t, I don’t know how that’s even possible, since the media are on top of every little move the company makes like the craziest of Facebook stalkers — the one who comments on any little photo you upload, article you link, or status you update within a minute of you doing it. Yes, Derek, I’m talking to you.

If somehow you haven’t heard about it, Facebook rolled out new granular privacy settings for its users yesterday. Now users can individualize privacy settings for every move they make on the social networking site. For example, today I got a funny gchat message from a friend:

“It’s a platinum dildo with 400 pave-set diamonds and a handle made of conkerberry wood…”

That struck me as a strange greeting. My response was “whaaaaa?” She explained “sh**, just sent you a msg meant for somebody else.” And then linked to this Forbes article about the high-end goods on display at a sexpo in Macau, China. So that explains that… (Though I’m still perplexed by who in the world would want a “smooth platinum” vibrator, “encrusted with 1,500 white diamonds.”)

I decided to post the chat to my Facebook page:

facebook status update

There’s a little lock that appears that let me choose who to share this inane status update with. As discussed many times, “Friends” is such a broad category that it means very little to restrict to “Only Friends.” That means everyone from my aunt to my boss to my niece to random colleagues that I’ve never met in person would be privy to this. The secret to the new Facebook privacy settings is the use of Lists.

To make your lists, you have to head to your “Friends” page and choose to “Create New List.” Then you need to make a list of those you don’t want to share dildo status updates with.

I have such a list called “Professional Contacts,” so once I click on that lock, I choose to “Customize” and get this option:

custom facebook privacy settings

Bravo, Facebook. I think the new privacy settings are quite good and very transparent.

Some are critical though (of course). The Electronic Frontier Foundation surveys the new settings in a post entitled “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

These new “privacy” changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reducethe amount of control that users have over some of their personal data.

Kevin Bankston at the EFF argues that the new settings push users to make their information available to “everyone” — and that it has made some things harder to hide from the world, like your Friends list. I highly recommend reading the article, though I tend to agree with the sassy take of T/S advertiser Webtrends: “People finally realize Facebook intends to make money off of their data.”

This is a huge problem for Facebook. Meghan Keane at Econsultancy writes, “Facebook wants to be at the center of user activity online, but privacy is a recurring problem for the social net.” She emphasizes this point by citing a Wired piece from earlier this year:

It has a massive storehouse of user data, but every time it tries to capitalize on that information, its members freak out. This isn’t an academic problem; the company’s future depends on its ability to master the art of behavioral targeting—selling customized advertising based on user profiles. In theory, this should be an irresistible opportunity for marketers; Facebook’s performance advertising program allows them to design and distribute an ad to as narrow an audience as they would like. (It has also developed a program to create ads that are designed to be spread virally.) But as the Beacon debacle showed, there is a fine line between “targeted and useful” and “creepy and stalkerish”—and so far, not enough advertisers have been willing to walk that line.”

via Great Wall of Facebook: The Social Network’s Plan to Dominate the Internet — and Keep Google Out

Facebook’s got tons of great info on us, but can’t seem to make money off it without pissing off its users. And that can end up costing the company rather that making it money. The Beacon debacle wound up racking up a big bill for Facebook: a $9.5-million settlement and an unknown (put probably huge) amount in legal fees.


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  1. collapse expand

    What the heck happened to just having fun with it all, wonder what Shakespeare would say about lawyers if he were alive today! I believe he wrote hundreds of years ago, “kill all the lawyers” and I better say “haha” just so I don’t get sued here!

  2. collapse expand


    Your title seems to suggest that the people freaking out about FB’s new privacy policy are being a bit alarmist. But the new policy isn’t just the one thing you highlighted here (and then conclude that you’re happy with the changes), which I agree is pretty fantastic and that the ability to finely tune the privacy settings of each thing you post on FB is a feature that’s been a long time coming.

    But once again, as you identify, FB thinks it knows what’s best for its users when it comes to privacy, and that what’s best is having the default settings tend towards open access. And the new policy is being touted as giving us more control, but that’s conveniently only true in some of the obvious areas.

    Behind this rhetoric they continue to make it really hard to get at some of the things people would most like to tinker with. And the fact that certain information is publicly available w/o an opt out is supremely screwed up. Also, those maddening applications that some people are so fond of now have access to this same information without the ability to opt out. If this somehow results in me being commandeered into somebody’s Chump Biting gang or whatever, I’m going to be super angry.

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    About Me

    I am a writer, reporter, editor and blogger. I'm an editor at Above The Law, where I blog about lawyers, judges, law firms and the legal industry. Here at True/Slant, I write about our changing notions of privacy.

    If you have story ideas or tips, e-mail me at kashhill@trueslant.com. I've hung out in quite a few newsrooms over the last few years. Currently, I can be found in Breaking Media's Nolita office. In the past, I've been found in midtown Manhattan at The Week Magazine, in Hong Kong at the International Herald Tribune, and in D.C. at the National Press Foundation and the Washington Examiner.

    I have few illusions about privacy -- feel free to follow me on Twitter: kashhill. Or friend me on Facebook... though I might put you on limited profile.

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    Contributor Since: March 2009
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    What I'm Up To

    • Staying Above The Law


      Over at Above The Law, I write about lawyers, law firms, judges and the legal industry.

      We especially like “colorful news.” (Yes, that’s a euphemism for gossip.)

      Check out the site here and my stuff here.


    • Writing with real ink

      While most of my writing occurs online at Above The Law and True/Slant, I do occasionally venture into the world of print.  These are some of the magazines and newspapers that I’ve written for:

      The Washington Post

      Washingtonian Magazine

      Time Out New York

      The Orange County Register

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    • Recent projects

      washingtonian issue for tsThe latest (and longest) “real ink” project: the cover story for Washingtonian Magazine’s December issue.

      While I’m usually a writer and reporter, I’m sometimes asked to play pundit. In November, the New York Times asked me to write a mini op-ed for its Room for Debate blog. In December, BBC radio asked me to talk about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook privacy settings for its Newshour (19:00 minute mark), based on this True/Slant post.

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