Facebook's new privacy controls: Still broken

It seems Facebook's new privacy controls aren't really that new and don't really protect your privacy. Aside from that, they're great.

So Facebook finally rolled out those new privacy controls it promised last week – to some users, at least. I was one of the lucky ones.

They sounded good at the time. In practice, though, not so much. In fact, I don’t think these changes were about improving privacy at all. More on that in a moment.

[Facebook revamps its privacy controls again (thanks, Google+) and Can Facebook privacy be simple?]

First, though, a correction. I was wrong when I wrote about Facebook’s new tagging controls last week. I had written:

One of my biggest complaints about Facebook is that it allows anyone to tag photos with your name – even if you’re nowhere in the picture. It was up to you to stay on top of tagging alerts and delete tags you didn’t want appearing. Now Facebook will let you preview tags and approve  or delete them before it they appear on anyone else’s wall. You’ll also be given more options about what you want to do – say, whether you want to remove the tag or ask your friend to remove the entire photo.

It turns out that the picture isn’t quite so rosy.

Let’s say your friend Bob tags you in a photo. Facebook will send you a message saying “Bob added a photo of you. To approve this for your profile, review your pending posts.” That’s the new bit.

That picture won’t appear on your Facebook page until you click “Add photo to your profile” (or “Approve all posts”). But it will appear on Bob’s profile, regardless of what you do. And all of Bob’s friends will be able to see it, assuming his privacy settings allow that.  That’s where I got it wrong.

[img_assist|nid=198045|title=Go ahead and reject that post. It will still appear on your friends profile|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=513|height=285]

You can, of course, remove the tag, or you can ask your friend to take down the photo (and if he or she doesn't, block them entirely). But if you don’t remove the tag or your friend doesn't delete the image, the photo and the tag will stay there in perpetuity, as in the past. So Facebook tags are substantially no different than they were before; which is to say, they still suck.

Actually, that’s not true – they’re worse. Using Facebook’s new “improved” privacy controls, you can tag someone else in photo and then keep them from seeing it. It’s pretty simple; just change the sharing option so they don’t see what you posted. So if you want to tag a picture of a jackass with your friend’s name on it and make it Public, everyone on Facebook will be able to see it except one – the person whose name is on it.

Here’s how the same status update appears to me (top) and the fake profile I’ve tagged in the update (bottom).

[img_assist|nid=198047|title=Top: What your Facebook posse sees. Bottom: What your tagged friend sees.|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=514|height=170]

See the name that’s missing from the bottom one? That (fake) person would have no idea he’s been tagged in this.

You can turn off the feature that lets other people check you into locations by going into the new privacy controls, selecting How Tags Work, and disabling Friends Can Check You Into Places. But you can’t keep people from tagging you or hiding those tags. And now, Facebook allows anybody and their dog to tag you, not just your friends.

Maybe this a bug. Maybe it’s just a strange alignment of the social media planets that affects only me. But if it’s not a bug or a planetary misalignment, it’s not good.

Really, though, what Facebook is spinning as “privacy controls” is actually something much sneakier, I think. The biggest thing they’ve done is embed tagging and Facebook Places into status updates, making it easier to tell people where you are, what you’re doing, and with whom.

[img_assist|nid=198053|title=What are you doing, with whom, and where? Facebook wants to know.|desc=|link=none|align=center|width=518|height=389]

I am sure many Facebook fans would see this as a benefit, but it ain’t privacy enhancing. And the ability to claim you were someplace with someone – and block that person from viewing your post, so they could refute or remove it – is wrong. I’m hoping this is just a glitch or just a mistake on my part. I can't believe even Facebook would do this intentionally.

TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan is feeling a big soggier than usual after the hurricane. Visit his snarky, occasionally NSFW blog eSarcasm or follow him on Twitter:@tynan_on_tech. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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