New Facebook Privacy Settings Are Fine as Long as You Read Them
Complaining about Facebook changes is nothing new–every time Facebook makes some kind of layout change, there’s a wave of furious indignation in the form of militant fan pages and groups followed by those same people quietly getting used to the changes and forgetting they ever cared. (After the more recent changes, I’ve been consistently amused by people demanding “our old feed back”–the one that pissed those same people off so much when it was introduced.)
This most recent change consists of a revamp for Facebook’s already-substantial privacy settings. This change didn’t actually affect anyone’s settings who didn’t tell it to; users were greeted with an unavoidable menu asking them if they wanted to keep their old settings or switch them to new, simplified privacy categories–the default of which in a number of them was “Everyone”.
This is, to be perfectly fair, not something I really have a problem with. While “Everyone” was preselected for some users (UPDATE: apparently not all, since for some at least, it was set to Original Settings), they gave you all the information you need to decide whether that was actually a good thing. Plus, I get why they’re doing it; they want all the data they have on their users to be available to search engines and marketers so they can monetize it, and so they can position themselves as the search result that people might want to come up on Google searches for their users’ names. Monetizing profile data without incurring the wrath of privacy advocates is something they’ve been doing for years through, among other things, their own targeted advertising network (the one that’s known for selling sex to men and weight loss to women), the ill-conceived and ill-fated Beacon, Facebook Connect, and the notorious ads that use friend connections to make it appear as though a user’s friends endorse a product.
On the other hand, I imagine many of their users neither take the time to learn about how far their profile data can go nor care about the issue, and might very well absently click their way through the menu without thinking about what “Everyone” actually means. Frankly, I have little sympathy for those users, but the EFF disagrees. I would be quite interested in statistics on how many users actually changed their settings to Everyone as a result of this menu–those would presumably be the ones who just didn’t want to be bothered and thought “yeah, whatever”.
It just goes to show: as always, there is no replacement for a smart user. Internet companies will monetize however they can. It’s up to users to decide where they want their data to go, or if they even care.
Edited: Fixed a minor typo. Also, I’ve received reports that Everyone wasn’t always preselected, which is quite significant for the “yeah, whatever” cases.