Facebook gets a privacy nip and tuck

The world's biggest social network has finally unveiled its "simplified" privacy controls. But the changes appear to be entirely cosmetic.

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From reading the descriptions, it seems the changes are mainly cosmetic. [Insert rimshot here.] A lot of them aren’t changes at all, though you wouldn’t know it from Zuckerberg’s blog post yesterday or Facebook’s new privacy information page.

The biggest and most significant change: You now get one screen that lets you pick who gets to see your status updates, photos, biography, family information, etc.  That’s a lot better than navigating dozens of screens and 50+ clicks to change all this stuff.

 facebook privacy

On the other hand, Facebook still makes your name, profile picture, gender, and the networks you belong to available to “everyone,” whether you like it or not. It also still sets your hometown and activities to be public by default, though you can change this. Your “connections” to pages, however, won’t automatically be made public. (So your membership in the “Fat person trapped inside a skinny person’s body” group will still be our little secret.) 

Today you already have the option of choosing who gets to see your posts and updates – everyone, friends of friends, friends only, or some custom combo. That’s not changing, though apparently Facebook will now remember the last setting you chose and apply it to any future posts.

Facebook adds an “off” button so you can keep all third-party apps from accessing your data (which also means you can’t use the apps any longer, so no more Farmville for you, young man); another control keeps third-party sites from seeing any of your public information. You can do all of these things today, but they require multiple steps. I’ll have to see how exactly how simple they make it before I decide if this is really a worthwhile change.

And that’s about it. Not exactly earth shaking.

Here’s what hasn’t changed: Facebook’s privacy model, which is still opt out. In other words, “we’ll share your information until you tell us not to.” If Facebook really wanted us to believe it cares about our privacy, it would adopt an opt in model (“we’ll ask permission before we share”). I didn’t actually expect that to happen, but it would be nice. 

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