Why Facebook Privacy Changes are Disconcerting

Josh Chambers, Former Viget

Article Category: #Strategy

Posted on

As you know, Facebook recently changed its privacy policy. What you may not know, is this seeming act of goodwill is actually a pretty sketchy effort to make user information even more public. There is definitely value in the change; but the roll-out of those changes, and the accompanying spin, is (for me) disconcerting. 

The Facebook I Love

It's important to know where I'm coming from when writing this post. What makes Facebook worthwhile for me (and many of us) is the "privacy." I am, of course, aware that if it's online it's not really "private" in the traditional sense. However, aside from email, Facebook is my last "private" digital hangout. Whereas from a privacy perspective I care very little who sees/follows my Twitter account, and I actually want lots of people visiting my web sites; I'm very selective with my Facebook friends. I want a place to talk with family and friends without strangers popping by to say hello (especially search engines). 

This Isn't a Crisis

There, I said it. Before you keep reading, I want to be clear that this post is in no way suggesting this is a catastrophe. It's up to you to decide, but in the end it's just making Facebook...different. The settings themselves are actually great; it's the reason for, and presentation of, the settings I'm not thrilled with.

Why This Is Disconcerting

The Spin Is Nauseating 

The new privacy features were touted as just that: privacy features. We were told they were all about us when, in reality, we were "marketed" to in the dirtiest sense of the word. This is another move on Facebook's part to make Facebook more public not more private. Why? More traffic = more ads = more money. In the words of Barry Schnitt, Director of Corporate Communications and Public Policy at Facebook:
[Becoming less private and more public is] 'a change just like it was a change in 2006 when Facebook became more than just people from colleges...Facebook is changing.'

Still not convinced? In the middle of their "Guide to Privacy on Facebook" you will find this:

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. 

Thanks for the recommendation, Facebook. You're so great to look out for me like that. 

And what will happen to all those public facing status updates? "Bing will be getting access to Facebook ‘Everyone’ status updates in early 2010.

I understand Facebook has to make money. If ads are the only way to keep it alive, then so be it. Just shoot me straight on why you're doing what you're doing. And don't go changing the entire purpose of the web site just because you need more ads. I'll pay to use the darn service if that means it stays true to its nature and I can stop seeing those god-awful "Cartoon Yourself" and "Get-Rich-Quick" ads.

The "Default" Settings Are Public

If you changed your Facebook privacy settings in the past, your settings will persist. However, if you're one of the 80 to 85 percent of users who have never changed your privacy settings, your default settings will now be "public." In other words, Facebook is banking on 80 to 85 percent of their user base "accidentally" being fully public. Shay-dee. 

Again, it would be unfair to not point out how easy the new privacy settings are to change and understand; but that doesn't seem to be the point, does it?

Why So Nervous?

Most of us don't have anything to hide in terms of inappropriate content (most being anyone over the age of 18...have you seen high schooler's Walls?). Honestly, I'm not even mad that Facebook is changing so drastically, perhaps it really will result in a "better" experience for some - I'm just not really one of those "some." What makes me nervous is the underhanded tactics Facebook seems to regularly employ when undergoing "improvements." 

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