Posted December 16, 2009 8:44 am by with 8 comments

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Facebook IconWhile many people already lie on their Facebook profile despite the pleas by Privacy Czar Mark Zuckerberg to keep the Facebook database clean for YOUR benefit, it is now an informally ‘recommended’ practice by some at Facebook. Before we move forward, let’s put this on the table first. Facebook’s move toward less privacy for its users may have profoundly changed the service once the full scope of what they are looking to do hits the masses. It will be hard to look at the service without seeing them trying to squeeze every last dollar out of it at the expense of the privacy and safety of its users.

Do I sound upset? I am. You see I have a child that loves Facebook. Because I am involved in the industry I have been able to lock down my child’s profile to the best of my ability. The friends of my child though now have lists of other kids that are on display for everyone to see. That everyone includes those with good intentions and those that see the new Facebook ‘privacy’ as a pervert’s WalMart SuperCenter of data to carry out their deviant needs. Over reaction? When it comes to the safety of a child be it mine or anyone else’s there are no over reactions.

So how does Facebook suggest you move forward? According to a TechCrunch report one option is to violate the Facebook’s own ‘voted on’ terms of service.

At least, that’s what Barry Schnitt, Facebook’s Director of Corporate Communications and Public Policy, told the Wall Street Journal in an article this evening. From the story:

Facebook also made public formerly private info such as profile pictures, gender, current city and the friends list. (Mr. Schnitt suggests that users are free to lie about their hometown or take down their profile picture to protect their privacy; in response to users’ complaints, the friends list can now be restricted to be viewed only by friends).

Back to my real life example, the WSJ article makes the point

But those who want a private experience on Facebook will have to work harder at it: if you inadvertently post a comment on a friend’s profile page that has been opened to the public, your comment will be public too.

Now you have to police whether your friends are private with their profiles if you say something to them that you would rather not have broadcast. This could get complicated quickly. So complicated, in fact, that some may throw their hands up and just walk away.

As for the ‘lie to protect’ policy. Mr. Schnitt backpedaled fast in an attempt to avoid a media snit about his intentions.

I think WSJ is paraphrasing. What I said is profile picture and current city are optional. You don’t have to include a profile picture or you can include a picture of your dog or anything you like. Similarly, you don’t have to indicate your current city or you can indicate that your current city is “Atlantis”, “Valhalla” or, again, anything you like. We hope people will use accurate information if they are comfortable doing so because that information helps them to be found by their friends, which is part of the point of joining the site.

So let’s sum this up. Facebook puts a default ‘privacy’ policy in place that is private in name only. They claim that 50% of the users have already made changes to their privacy profiles (which is difficult to believe but I will give the benefit of the doubt). That only leaves about 175 million people walking around with their Facebook kimono wide open to the world.

Is there anything good coming out of this? Is the need to have real time data and marketing information worth the risk of being ‘wide open’ with your data? Of course, there is the option to not be involved at all which is a valid argument. If that were the case though, and a lot of people walked away, then just how valuable does that Facebook data become when it only represents a certain kind of user? Is this the start of Facebook’s move to a MySpace type of case study in what not to do to stay on top of the social media world?

So your thoughts are welcome and desired. Be warned: We expect you will tell the truth but what’s a few lies between friends?

  • Sara T

    That’s why I’ve refused to sign up my children for FB or any of those sites that open up privacy concerns. And I post only the most innocuous things on my own pages. If I don’t want information broadcast to the world I go through e-mail.

    FB is, in my opinion, a wonderful resource for staying connected to friends and family, and it’s a growing resource for business networking, as well. But like any other networking opportunity there are plenty of ways it can be abused.

  • Hi Frank,

    Thanks for the interesting post.

    In FB’s new world order, what are your recommended privacy settings, both for kids and yourself?


  • Wouldn’t right now be the perfect time to launch a new “safe, social network” with a mission to be and stay like Facebook was! It has been said before that MySpace is the new Booty Call. In my eyes, Facebook just became the new booty call. Big mistake Facebook. Great points Andy.

  • Good, sound reasoning regarding Facebook’s new ill-conceived approach to privacy setting. The risk and danger to ‘over exposure’ will always be there in social networking if people are not circumspect about their dealings on such sites. Users should have a choice to stay ‘under the radar’ or tell the world the who-where-what of themselves.

    Again, I stress that care and awareness of what is lurking out there should be the order of the day. If Facebook and other social sites start to impose unwarranted defaults on users, people have a choice to move away. It’s not the end of the world if one does not use Facebook or even Twitter. Sometimes, websites get too popular (MySpace, Facebook, etc.) and tend to shoot themselves in the foot.

  • I have spent quite some time with this subject as well.
    First, I have a video that explains every single facebook setting in detail (which is shared with ‘everyone’ on facebook). You can see it here:

    Finally, I have also made a blog post that explains how facebook protects the settings that matters to them (the money settings). That one can be seen here:

  • keezar

    Read the facebook’s terms and conditions in order to find out if there was a change in the terms and conditions recently. what they have done is similar to taking your contacts in your phone and sharing them with everyone else on there and from what i can tell they didn’t give a clear and precise warning about this or an option out i believe this to be a major breach of the Data Protection Act here in the UK. from terms and conditions
    “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings. In addition:…” now if that wouldn’t hold up in court, i’m not sure what would. facebook sold our private lives without asking… this is no different than stealing..

  • David

    I am furious that I have not choice to not show all my friends to everyone else. I carefully separate my personal friends, my work friends and my church friends and it was working quite well, thank you, until facebook made them all visible to all my friends.

    I have locked things down much more as a result but it just doesn’t work anymore for me. I need to hide one list of friends from another so they don’t go and mix it up.

    I am waiting for FB to revert the NO CHOICE for friend visibility and add the not visible to EVERYONE option as it was before. Until then my FB experience is crippled and I am seriously looking for options.

    One option is to have three FB sites with different names for different purposes but then I have to do things three times and this is also against their policies and common sense.

    I am a reasonable person but am become increasingly irritated with their greedy choices. Yes, greedy, they are making money by making us all more public. Thats the sum and substance of it, nothing less than that.

  • David

    Ok, please excuse my spelling mistakes. I didn’t look closely enough. Anyway I hope that the class action lawsuit is addressing this issue of friend visibility. I would like to be informed about that. I certainly give my support to major legal action. Another poster has hit it on the head. It appears they are ILLEGALLY sharing our private information, which they guaranteed previously NOT to share. IE., our friend lists etc.