I’ve been ranting publicly and privately for the last week about Facebook’s new “privacy” options that went into effect last week. I put privacy in quotes because the way things were set up, many Facebook users had information out in the public domain, and they didn’t even know it.
The biggest issue for me was that even if you hid your friends list, it was still available publicly. So hiding it really did nothing to stop people from seeing it. Sure, your friends couldn’t see your friends list on your profile, but anyone on Facebook could see it if they knew the right URL to use.
Facebook even acknowledged the lists were public, while trying to tell users that they could hide their friends list. Notice the clever language they used in a blog post which told you that you could hide your friends list, but then turned around and said “not really.” (Important text highlighted in bold by me):
UPDATE on Thursday, Dec. 10: In response to your feedback, we’ve improved the Friend List visibility option described below. Now when you uncheck the “Show my friends on my profile” option in the Friends box on your profile, your Friend List won’t appear on your profile regardless of whether people are viewing it while logged into Facebook or logged out. This information is still publicly available, however, and can be accessed by applications. Thanks again for your comments and suggestions.
Today the Electronic Privacy Information Center and nine other privacy groups filed a complaint with the FTC about Facebook. They want the FTC to investigate the privacy changes, and they’re saying that Facebook didn’t do enough to protect users’ privacy when they rolled out the changes last week. What was touted as an “improvement’ to privacy options really destroyed a lot of privacy for most Facebook users. The full complaint is posted at Mashable.
And yes, I personally think Facebook was deceptive about all this and tried to trick users into opening up their data to prying eyes. How better for Facebook to open up their platform to more advertising revenues than to get users to expose more data about themselves?
Yes, the whole purpose of social networking is to connect with others and share information. However, I think providers of these services owe it to users to be forthcoming about exactly what is private and what is not. Consumers should have the right to decide about their own privacy based on getting the whole story from the networks, not just public relations spin about “new and improved” privacy options which are really less private than ever before.