Changes at Facebook Mean Less Privacy for Users

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Facebook Hosts Conference On Future Of Social Technologies

It's out with the old, in with the new -- and by new, we mean "less privacy" -- at Facebook. CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at the F8 conference for developers several new changes underway at Facebook, many of which will affect Facebook users. In fact, you may have already seen some if you logged into Facebook yesterday since they are currently rolling out the changes.

The main focus has been on the removal of a few privacy features. The first, according to Gawker, is "allowing the outside websites with which it shares user data to hold on to said data. Previously, the partners were supposed to dispose of the information within 24 hours." In reality, all those Facebook applications were already grabbing your user information, therefore, the only change is that this information can be held and filed for later use. Going hand-in-hand with making things easier for developers (at the cost to users) is moving to a "one-click action" when a user registers for new applications. Now, Facebook is not going to tell you a bunch of warnings as you click to download a new application. It will give you one box, you'll sign off on it with a click, and you'll be on your way to adding a new application.

On the other side of the privacy removal is the new "like button" (or as it's called by developers: the Open Graph API. You should pay close attention to the word "open" in Open Graph). The "like button" is a toolbar that people can use to show people things they like. But it's so much more than simply listing that I love the show Brothers and Sisters and listen to Sufjan Stevens. By utilizing the power of Facebook Connect, the system that allows people to use their Facebook login to enter other sites, the "like button" will be able to connect the universal liker (by which I mean, you) with other information they might like.

PC World shares a story about how the writer's experience with Pandora changed after using the "like button," with Pandora magically scanning the musicians he said he liked on his Facebook page and delivering them to him in the form of songs. It then proceeded to tell him which of his Facebook friends also shared his taste in music. Dan Tynan says, "Facebook is taking the notion of 'friends' more literally than most of its users do, I suspect. That leads to a Too Much Information problem, which its new 'Like' program will only exacerbate." In other words, did you want that person you met at a conference and thought would make a good person to network with in the future to know that you loooooooooooooooooove Celine Dion?

The only way for the "like button" or Open Graph to work is to know as much about you as possible (get that open part now?), which is why Facebook has removed other privacy features. According to Electronic Frontier Foundation, "Facebook removed its users' ability to control who can see their own interests and personal information. Certain parts of users' profiles, 'including your current city, hometown, education and work, and likes and interests' will now be transformed into 'connections,' meaning that they will be shared publicly. If you don't want these parts of your profile to be made public, your only option is to delete them."

See, says Facebook, there is an option -- and it's "don't share."

For the majority of users, people knowing their general location, education, or workplace will not be a big deal. But there are a plethora of situations where someone would not want their personal information broadcast online. And their option now is to either delete it or allow it to be harvested, or as Electronic Frontier Foundation puts it, "Facebook users now face a Hobson's choice between the new Connections and no listed interests at all."

The people who benefit most from the changes are advertisers and those looking to quickly find their target audience. Have a new pair of sneakers to sell? Advertisers will be able to access lists of people who have listed in their profile that they enjoy running. Want to find out a person's political affiliation so you can target your campaign? Now you can. Tynan points out: "Corporations spend tens of millions of dollars trying to figure out what consumers like. Facebook is getting this information for free."

Anildash perhaps makes the best point (on Twitter): "Will someone ask Zuck why he doesn't use Facebook's default privacy at F8 tomorrow? If it's not good enough for him then why's it ok for us?"

Um ... that is a good question. Would Mark Zuckerberg like to chime in on why he doesn't use the default privacy settings? Could it be because they remove way too much privacy if you return to the original purpose of Facebook, which is to share information with people with whom you wish to share information.

Facebook Hosts Conference On Future Of Social Technologies

Gawker (and Lifehacker) have created handy guides for people who wish to close as many of the privacy gaps as possible, though some changes will be impossible to jump over. Their top recommendations: Remove all of the information where "connections" are being made, such as your hometown, workplace or past schools. Also, remove any apps you really don't need.

In addition, all users who don't wish to have their information accessible should go into "account" and click on "privacy settings." Under that screen, click on "applications and websites." At the bottom of that screen, you will see a small box with a check mark in it saying "allow" next to "instant personalization." Uncheck the box and do not be swayed by the little box that pops up asking if you reeeeeeeeeeeeally mean it.

Unless you don't care about these new Facebook changes and then carry on with Farmville, business as usual.

No one can know if there will be a silver lining for users in the clouds over Facebook which are simultaneously dumping rain showers on users standing without privacy umbrellas while hydrating the very rich fields of those who stand to gather a lot of user data. Perhaps the connections made between your likes and other information will be useful enough to warrant the removal of privacy features.

Or not.

The question remains, how much information are you leaving on Facebook? Your cell phone number? Your hometown? The fact that you love Glee? Will learning this information change the way you use Facebook?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her book is Navigating the Land of If.

Recent Posts by Melissa Ford

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