Facebook's privacy controls are seriously broken

Want to make your Facebook profile only visible to your friends? Good luck with that. It may not even be possible.

I've spent a fair amount of time lately messing about with Facebook's privacy settings, which is almost like having a life, but not quite. Then I discovered something odd and disturbing: I cannot make all of my "likes and interests" private so that only my friends can see them. Even when I tell Facebook to do it, it won't -- they're still visible to anyone who looks up my Facebook profile.

Is it a bug? Was it something I said? Was it all those jokes about Facebook causing venereal disease or because I published a nude photo of Mark Zuckerberg? I dunno. But whatever the reason, even with every single Facebook setting turned to "friends only," anyone on Facebook can still see the 128 groups I have joined on the site. To wit:

Tynan's facebook likes aren't private

To see if this was a fluke, I tried the same thing with the lovely but entirely fictitious Eve Sarcasta, an account I created so I could test out Facebook apps and quizzes without getting slime all over my personal account. (Yes, I know, I'm not supposed to create fake accounts on Facebook. Sue me.)

Here's Eve's public profile using Facebook's default settings:

eves facebook profile public version

Here's Eve's account after I changed all of her settings to "friends only" and removed access to her information from her friends' apps, Google search, etc:

eves private facebook profile

As you can see, I was able to make Eve's account pretty (though not entirely) private, listing just her name, gender, photograph, and extreme hotness. (That photo is the luscious, and very real, Claudia Lynx, if you're interested.) So there's clearly something different about my account, possibly because it's older and contains information Facebook's privacy controls no longer can address. Or possibly something else. It's a mystery.

Here's the bigger point. Want to know how many clicks it took me to get Eve almost totally private? 50. Yes, the big Five-O.

In other words, to tweak your account so that only your friends can see it (which, if I recall correctly, was how Facebook started out), it requires sifting through roughly a dozen menus and clicking "Friends Only" 50 times. Fifty clicks. Even more if you count the various clicks to go up and down Facebook's hierarchical privacy controls and to confirm my changes.

Fifty (50) times.

That's not just ridiculous; it's obscene.

I have a proposal for Facebook, one I think they should consider very seriously. Instead of making you click 50 times so that only your friends can see your information, I suggest a smaller number: 1.

One-click privacy, just like Amazon's one-click shopping. One button that instantly reduces every sharing option to the bare minimum. And then put that button right on the accounts page so people don't have to go looking for it.

Call it The Power of One. I think I heard that somewhere. Call it FaceOne or OneBook. Call it whatever you like, I don't care.

Of course, from their perspective, Facebook wants to make it hard for you to opt out. They need you to share as much information as widely as possible if they're going to make Google-like money on targeted ads. So if half of their 400 million subscribers clicked that one-button opt out I am lobbying for, it would probably make Mark Zuckerberg cry.

Too bad. Until Facebook makes privacy as easy as its "Like" button, any claims that it "takes your privacy very seriously" cannot be taken very seriously.

I'm going to ask the Facebook press folk to respond to this post; I'll let you know what they have to say.

When not busy not-having a life, award-winning journalist Dan Tynan tends his garden of snark at eSarcasm, the Web Site That Gives and Gives and Gives and Asks Nothing in Return (tm).

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