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On Facebook Privacy…Again August 20, 2010 at 3:16 am

I’m not generally someone who’s really concerned about lots of information about myself floating around the Internet. But what does annoy me is when I DO what to keep something private (or at least think I’m keeping it private even if I don’t really care) and it turns out it’s not. Such is my entire problem with Facebook. When I first began using FB, it was mostly only college students and you had to have an account to even search for other people on the site and most, if not all, of my stuff was kept between just me and my friends and maybe my network. So I knew that whatever notes or status or wall posts I was writing, only my friends and people at my school could read it.

5 years later the service is completely different. Which is fine. They’re trying to grow and compete against the likes of the completely public Twitter. But the way they’ve treated me as a user and how I use my privacy…well, I don’t feel like I’ve been thought of at all, honestly. I know they did most things “right”, popping messages and notices with most major changes, but for me as a casual/minimal user the last few years, I feel like it would’ve been nice to get an e-mail or something telling me what was changing on my personal profile with each new major feature or privacy change. When I finally got myself to wade in and spend 20 minutes figuring out the (new, simple! …simple my ass) I think all my stuff was fairly locked down, but it would’ve been nice not to have had to worry about that for several weeks/months before I got around to figuring it out. (I’m a very infrequent user now, but in the past I used it quite a bit so I have a lot of back data that at the time was secure and I don’t feel like trying to even figure out if I care if it becomes un-private, it was private and I just want it to stay that way.) A simple customized e-mail would be great every time they make a change.

And then we come to Places. At least I had time to mentally prepare myself for the fact that FB was going to do another number on our privacy, but I wasn’t expecting the “check other people in” feature. It’s not a surprise given the tagging feature on photos (and for whatever reason that doesn’t bother me). So I was happy to hear that the first time someone gets checked in by a friend it sends you an e-mail asking for permission. But tonight TechCrunch brings us news, that, no, that’s not actually how it works. If you don’t actually opt-out of Places, your friends can check you in. Let me say that again: unless you actively disable it, Facebook has by default enabled your location to be shared. This is where I begin to care less about myself (honestly I don’t have very many FB friends and rarely hang out with them and I doubt any of them would ever check me in anyway) and more about all those people who don’t mind about status updates being published in Google search results, don’t mind any of the changes Facebook has been making, but who don’t ever want their location to be shared, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s to avoid being robbed. It doesn’t matter. What matters, is that Facebook has yet again by default enabled a state of “over-sharing” rather than a state of “under-sharing” because they know that millions of people won’t mind, millions of people will mind and will turn it off, but (and these is the group that I’m righteously anger on the behalf of) also that millions of people might very well care, but don’t know anything has changed.

In my mind it’s not as much about some sort of safety issues (I very much doubt anything really bad will happen because FB once again played loose with users’ privacy) as much as it’s about a disregard for users feelings. Nobody would be upset if Facebook had a habit of tight default privacy controls. But people ARE upset because Facebook has a habit of loose default privacy controls. It’s not a lose-lose situation in terms of happy users. If FB locked down privavy by default, nobody would be complaining. Except the finance department, I presume.

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