Facebook gets a little too personal

'Instant Personalization' has turned into an instant privacy headache for Facebook. Even the US Senate is complaining about it.

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When you're a social network with tens of millions of users and you've got the attention of the US Congress, that's almost never a good thing. And so it goes with Facebook and its naked attempt to become the central repository of consumer preferences on the Web (see "What's to like about Facebook's 'Like' Button?").

That bit of news is not sitting well with four US Senators, who have called for Facebook to roll back some of its recent changes to how it shares your information with the world.

Among the changes Facebook recently made is that even more of your information is now publicly accessible to anyone -- such as your current city, hometown, education, work, likes, interests, and friends. The pages that you "Like" become part of your public profile, accessible to anyone else who views the pages you've "Liked," even if you don't know them from Adam.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Kurt Opsahl notes, Facebook introduced this concept using the innocuous topic of "cooking." Who wouldn't want to be known as a fan of cooking? Unfortunately, the same rules apply to more controversial pages you might also like:

"Previously, you could list "cooking" as an activity you liked on your profile, but your name would not be added to any formal "Cooking" page. (Under the old system, you could become a "fan" of cooking if you wanted). But now, the new Cooking page will publicly display all of the millions of people who list cooking as an activity.

"Cooking is not very controversial or privacy-sensitive, and thus makes for a good example from Facebook's perspective. Who would want to conceal their interest in cooking? Of course, the new program will also create public lists for controversial issues, such as an interest in abortion rights, gay marriage, marijuana, tea parties and so on."

You might well want to tell the world you're an unrepentant tea bagger or that you rock your afternoons with a spliff and the Bob Marley channel on Pandora. Or you might just want to share that info with a few select friends and leave the other 400 million Facebookers out of it. No can do, compadre. The way Facebook is set up now, it's all or nothing, in or out. You share everything with the world, or you share nothing at all.

Don't get me wrong. I use Facebook all the time. And I probably share too much about myself. But that doesn't mean you should.

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