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:
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:
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.”
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.