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Facebook Gives a Little, Gets a Little With New Privacy Settings

Facebook Gives a Little, Gets a Little With New Privacy Settings

Facebook has changed its privacy controls after conducting a vote on the matter that was doomed from the start to be irrelevant. Facebook claims the tweaks to its system will make it easier for users to access and understand their privacy settings, and that may be true. However, it also appears that users' timelines will be more searchable, which may be a key reason underlying Facebook's move.

By Erika Morphy TechNewsWorld ECT News Network
12/12/12 3:43 PM PT

Facebook has introduced a number of changes to its privacy controls, positioning them as easier for users to manage.

For example, a new icon on the toolbar will allow users to ask three questions: Who can see my stuff? Who can contact me? and How do I stop someone from bothering me? For further information, users go to the Privacy Settings page, which will be repositioned below the Security option under Account Settings.

Facebook will also explain where a user's post will appear -- such as in search, news feeds and other places on Facebook.

A request-and-remove tool will let users select photos and untag them on their page, as well as send removal requests to those who tagged them.

Facebook will also divide its third-party app question into two questions. Currently it asks users whether a third-party app can access their personal information and whether they want to give it permission to publish activities to their friends.

New Search Tool?

Not all of the changes are welcomed by privacy advocates. Users will not be able to keep their timelines out of the search tool, for instance. Facebook maintains this is a little-used tool and that the timeline is accessible in other parts of Facebook anyway. However, it's possible that the change has more to do with the search tool Facebook is expected to release.

Facebook's decision to eliminate user choice to hide from searches is a clear signal that a search tool is coming, Luis Salazar, cofounder of Salazar Jackson, told TechNewsWorld.

"It's inevitable that as a public company Faceook has got to push the privacy envelope to monetize its incredibly rich data base of personal information," he said. "These changes set the stage for its strong push in that direction."

A Fine Line

The latest set of changes is an example of Facebook straddling a fine line between transparency and decreased control, Guido Lang, assistant professor of computer information systems at Quinnipiac University, told TechNewsWorld.

"On the one hand, Facebook will offer its users greater transparency over who sees what and where by providing additional features such as an updated activity log and in-context notices," he observed. "On the other hand, Facebook will remove the ability to control if one appears in Facebook's search results."

No More Voting

The elimination of voting for privacy changes is what really irks privacy advocates. Facebook will scrap its user voting system and replace it with a system that emphasizes "high-quality" feedback instead.

Facebook has argued that it wants to prevent votes from being triggered by comments that are copy-and-pasted by activists. Here's the way the system worked before the vote: If a proposed change received 7,000 comments, Facebook users could vote on it. If 30 percent of all Facebook users should vote, the decision would have been binding.

However, getting 300 million of Facebook's 1 billion users to vote on a privacy change was highly unlikely. The overwhelming majority of Facebook users who did cast a ballot voted to reject the changes and keep the system intact. However, since the 300 million threshold was not reached, Facebook decided to disregard their preference and move ahead with its changes.

Just Stay Off Facebook

The fact is, the only way for Facebook users to keep their information private is to stay off Facebook, Paul Levinson, professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, told TechNewsWorld.

"I think it is inherently impossible to make a system like Facebook private in any meaningful way. Even if someone keeps information just within a strict circle of family or friends, those people can still publish the information," he pointed out.

"If Facebook were completely honest," said Levinson, "it would say 'don't put anything on Facebook or any online system if you want it to be private.'"


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