Updated privacy control on Facebook

Facebook is the biggest thing on the Internet right now. Just recently the company announced that they have more than 500 million users worldwide, which makes Facebook the biggest online community that ever existed. Never before did the users post so many thoughts, pictures, videos and links on a single website. But, with such a great power comes also a great responsibility – especially concerning the privacy of the users who post. This is a serious issue, just search on the Internet about “Facebook privacy” and you will find about 3 million links. There have been websites created to discuss and explain the security settings and there are online tests to show how secure your Facebook account is. Last but not least, Facebook itself created and improved some recommended standards settings and this is actually the reason why I am writing this post.

Let’s start with the basics: the default settings. Facebook wants to get as many as possible matches from the search engines which crawl the users’ pages, so they recommend very permissive security settings.

But these default settings are not good enough. They allow everybody to find you, to see who you are, who’s your family and what is your family status. These settings would be nice for a telephone book or a dating agency. Facebook is not one of these. I would be the worst customer since my account is automatically pushing all these news about the software security in my status updates.

My personal recommendation is to only let “My Status, photos and posts” appear public with the note that not all your photos should be automatically made public. You should choose to share only those pictures which don’t show other people and are not of personal nature. Of course, if you don’t want your employer to read about your personal life, you should set everything to “friends only”.

Where you see “Other” in the settings overview this actually means that only you can see these settings. This can be seen in the screen shots below.

You can refine the settings by clicking on the “Customize settings” link.


To me it is very important to control who can see what I publish – especially posts and pictures. This is why I focus on these settings.

Posts’ privacy

One should think about if it is a good idea that the whole world can read one’s posts. It might be tempting to just say yes. But then think about posts where you tell your friends that you’re about to leave the house in order to meet them. You probably don’t want everyone (read: burglars) to know that. It is better to choose carefully who to let know what you are doing or thinking.

Facebook generously allows all posts to be public for everybody. After all, this is their business model – generating more traffic. Only after a lot of public criticism the company started to make the users aware of this problem and to simplify the privacy settings. Last week, they rolled out a new feature which automatically displays information about this new privacy control feature. Only after the users click on “Close” this popup disappears.

If you click “Learn More” you see the popup explaining what is all about.

Pictures

Unfortunately, Facebook doesn’t make a distinction between posts and pictures. This is a very tricky option which, in my opinion, Facebook should change. However, it is possible after posting images to choose the type of privacy each album gets. You can’t choose individual settings for each picture, though.

In a coming article I will take a deeper look into privacy issues of Facebook Applications, Games and Public search.

Sorin Mustaca
Manager International Software Development