Facebook’s privacy practices have been in the headlines this week, not just in the tech world, but also in the main stream press.
The new opt-out settings certainly are complex. Facebook users who hope to make their personal information private should be prepared to spend a lot of time pressing a lot of buttons. To opt out of full disclosure of most information, it is necessary to click through more than 50 privacy buttons, which then require choosing among a total of more than 170 options.
The BBC today published a brief but helpful guide to Facebook privacy settings which can help anyone through the maze. The BBC notes
It should be noted that some of the most contentious settings are not managed via the privacy page. For instance, to limit how much Facebook advertisers can find out about you requires a look at the relevant part of the “my account” pages.
Similarly, if you want to manage who sees who your friends are the option to do this is on the main profile page. Click the pencil icon next to the box showing your friends. This pops up another box which gives an option to hide friends. It does not completely obscure them, but makes them harder to find.
Through the main profile page it is also possible to control what some of the applications you use post when you use them.
As a Facebook user, I find Facebook’s privacy practices disturbing:
- The changes are too frequent.
- Each change Facebook makes to the default settings is to reveal more without asking the user; users must opt out to preserve what is left of privacy.
- The arrangement of the settings pages seem to be like those “change-of-terms” notices that credit card companies send out: designed to be indecipherable. (Indeed, the New York Times article included the tidbit that Facebook’s privacy F. A. Q exceeds 45,000 words–that’s about nine U. S. Constitutions.)
I understand that Facebook is free to the user, that its potential for making money lies with advertising and that, the more they can tailor ads to individuals the more attractive they become to advertisers. The cynical would say that Facebook does not strike a balance on privacy; it strikes blows against it with every policy change.
Indeed, I’ve almost stopped using my Facebook account. I probably log in no more than two or three times a week (usually after being notified of a message there) and seldom than it takes to respond to the message.
I’m getting tired of struggling with the privacy settings every six weeks or so.
Indeed, if I weren’t pumping my blog posts from my personal blog into Facebook, I’d probably deactivate my account.