Facebook’s Privacy Upgrade Recommends I Be Less Private

Facebook’s challenge to me (and others), as it has tried to compete with Twitter, has been that so much of the user data it wants to share with the world as content to attract visitors and eyeballs has been tied up behind the the privacy barriers set by its own users. How do you get those users to be more public? Apparently, offer “new” privacy options under the guise of “user control” but which really seem designed as a wholescale attempt to get users to open up. I’ll be a case study of this in action.

I logged into my Facebook account just now and got this big message:

Facebook Privacy Settings

You couldn’t miss it and kudos to Facebook for being really in-your-face about the change. In contrast, Google shifted to personalizing everyone’s search results last week with only a quiet Friday afternoon blog post as notification.

Still, I’ll take back some of the kudos for what happened when I followed the link to the Update Your Privacy Settings page:

Facebook Privacy Settings

Notice that Facebook is giving me two options, to maintain my “Old Settings” versus sharing information with Everyone, Friends Of Friends or just Friends, depending on the category. There are eight categories of information:

  • About me
  • Family & Relationships
  • Word & Education
  • Posts I Create
  • Photos & Videos of Me
  • Birthday
  • Religious & Political Views
  • Address

On the face of it (no pun intended), it looks like Facebook’s trying to get me to open up three categories to the world that previously appeared closed. These were all tagged as recommended from changing from my old settings to Everyone:

  • Family & Relationships
  • Word & Education
  • Posts I Create

Well, what were my old settings for these categories (NOTE: see comment below, if you hover over the Old Settings option for each category, THEN your old settings are shown. This escaped me, and I expect others). And didn’t I have more options than just opening them to everyone? I had to open a new window to see what my old settings were:

Facebook | Privacy Settings

Family & Relationships? Previously I had that locked down to sharing with only those in my networks and friends. For some reason, Facebook has determined that I should share the information with everyone.

Now, the whole networks thing always seemed dumb. I put myself in the Silicon Valley network because you could have only one at the time I did that, and despite living in England at the time, that was more related to me than other options.

As part of the today’s Facebook changes, the entire networks thing is going away. From the Facebook press release, network sharing disappears, with only these options remaining:

  • Friends
  • Friends of Friends
  • Everyone
  • Customized

Customized isn’t explained well in the release. It means that you can pick specific people or only lock it to yourself:

Facebook | Privacy Settings

So my “old” settings for Family & Relationship info aren’t something that Facebook recommends that I keep. Nor can I keep those settings. If networks is going away, I can hardly share with “Friends & Networks.” But rather than recommend a conservative setting, Facebook tells me to go completely public.

I can’t even get into the Silicon Valley network to see how many people I was sharing this information with before. Maybe 25,000? I’m guessing that’s way more than were really in it. I also have about 1,600 friends. So I shared the info with about 30,000 people previously. Now Facebook thinks I should share the same with billions of people around the world.

Why? What was the logic behind deciding that my relationship data is recommended to share with the world but for some odd reason, my About Me description that says “Enough about me, how about you” was something Facebook felt should retain my existing closed privacy restrictions.

Really, Facebook should have recommended a setting of sharing with only my friends. Why weren’t all these options listed. Why did it become a choice between Everyone versus Old, which mean being having to hunt down whatever my old settings actually were.

Of course, from a privacy standpoint, I’m not that worried about the information leaking out. I mean seriously, if I share it with even my 1,600 “friends,” many of whom aren’t really close friends but simply people I’ve chosen to let into my Facebook friend network, that information is hardly locked down. For the most part, I figure if I put it on Facebook, it’ll get out to the world.

For Education & Work, I was already sharing that with the world, so no harm, no foul. Same for the Posts By Me setting, though I’ve lost track of when my Status Updates were considered “posts.” Perhaps I missed that change along the way.

Further down, Facebook wants me to chose between sharing to Friends Of Friend and my old settings for these categories:

  • Photos & Videos of Me
  • Birthday
  • Religious & Political Views

Photos & Videos, I’d previously shared only with Friends. Now Facebook wants me to be more liberal and include Friends Of Friends. Why?

My Birthday info and Religious & Political Views were both for Friends & Network. Rather than be conservative and recommend Friends only, it again is more liberal in my view.

Finally, there’s my Address info, which Facebook recommends I keep as my Old Settings. Of course, when I look to see what my old settings are, I don’t even see an option for my address info listed. That’s probably because I never gave Facebook my address.

What I do see are things listed with old settings that aren’t called out to my attention on the privacy update page, such as:

  • Photo Albums
  • Allowing friends to post on my wall
  • Posts by Friends
  • Comments on posts

Why? No idea.

Overall, it feels like this all could have been handled better. Facebook wants me to be more liberal in half the categories of information I’d restricted, by my measure. That doesn’t feel like a privacy upgrade.

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