Sunday, June 20, 2010

How to fix Facebook's new privacy settings

How Facebook said good morning today.
(Credit: Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET) When logging in to Facebook Thursday, I, like millions of other people, got the directive to update my privacy settings to fit in to the new, "simplified," scheme.
But at their core, the Facebook privacy settings have not been simplified. Beyond the set-up page, Facebook's privacy controls are now more complex and more powerful. The new set-up page seems more designed to pry this privacy from you than give you access to the new, and excellent, controls that Facebook has put in place.
What gets me about the page is that it doesn't seem to be designed for the users of the service. I get the impression it's set up to get users to give Facebook more permission than they should, to put their private data in the public sphere.
It does this by organizing around its "recommended" privacy settings rather than by your previous settings, and by not giving you access to the fine-grained control that's under the hood.

Facebook's new simple privacy settings page wants you to make all your posts and photos visible to the whole Web by default.
(Credit: Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET) If you accept the tacit recommendations on the page, items that you likely used to keep restricted to just people in your network or to your extended network will be visible to everyone on the Web. Data that will be exposed includes your wall posts and photos. That's what Facebook recommends, and apparently wants. Likewise, your political and religious views, per Facebook recommendation, will now be shared with your entire extended network, which, if you're reasonably connected in the world, will easily include people with whom you'd rather not share this information.
I understand why Facebook is attempting to expand the permissions it collects from users to share their information. The more information that is open, the more interesting Facebook is to people trying to get in to the system or to expand their own networks. And the more people use Facebook to define their social circles, the more potentially monetizable data Facebook has, and the more valuable and competitive its database is, compared to other social systems.
Moreover, the more public Facebook users' updates are, the better Facebook can fend off Twitter, which has a social system that is by default open. On Twitter, unless users specify otherwise, anyone can follow them, and all updates are public. Facebook's social graph has been historically closed: Friending has to be mutual, and updates, so far, have been limited to just friends.
With the new defaults, Facebook becomes more searchable, more Twitter-like, and gets more traffic from search engines.
In return for asking for this openness, though, Facebook is giving users something new and valuable: The capability to control who can see each individual post with incredible specificity. I especially like the feature that lets a user put up a post that's open to their entire network (friends of friends) except for a specific person or people. It's a great feature for gossips, or for someone who wants to communicate with everyone they know--except their mother.
But I'd like to propose to Facebook that it re-work its new initial privacy page with one designed to help users, not Facebook's Google rankings. Here it is:

Facebook Begins Rolling Out New Home Page Design

Facebook is now fully launching the long-planned redesign, with 80 million users getting it tonight — that’s 80 million of the now-400 million people using the site, the company says. The new design is basically

what we’ve been examining in detail since the first test screenshots apppeared last October.
Parts of the site that were formerly located in the bottom toolbar — bookmarks, notifications, chat — are now being moved up into the left-hand navigation column on the homepage, or into the top navigation bar. Here are some more details gleaned from Facebook this evening.
First off, a lot more people are engaging with notifications in the new design, Facebook’s Peter Deng tells us, which isn’t surprising since it’s at the top left-hand side of the site instead of the right hand of the bottom toolbar. Notifications for third parties will appear within the new interface for the rest of the month, until Facebook removes them on March 1.

There are a few other new points that the company revealed today. The news feed will now be more clearly delineated at the top. “Credits Balance,” as we noted in an update to our last post, now appears in the drop-down of the new Accounts page on the top right-hand corner. The new search box shows search results for people based on how closely they’re connected to you — how many friends you both have in common, etc. The photo uploader has been rebuilt from scratch, and promises far better performance than the prior one.
While notifications have been moved up to the top, and bookmarks slotted into the left-hand navigation column on the home page, Chat is a little different. The instant message service now appears beneath the new bookmarks section on the home page, and shows you friends who are online and available to chat; the list is sorted by how often to talk to the people, and other factors. Meanwhile, a part of the bottom toolbar is sticking around — pop-up window on the right side of every page, where you chat with people as you use various parts of Facebook or third party apps.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg also tells us that the company is planning to roll out “something cool” every month from now on, but no word on what products we’ll see.