Facebook’s Privacy Upgrade is a Downgrade for User Privacy

Recently I’ve commented on Facebook’s new privacy paradigm, and went so far to applaud Facebook’s promise to give users more specific control over individual posts, as well as the promise to simply its privacy settings.

My enthusiasm was tempered with skepticism (especially considering Facebook’s past privacy failures), as open questions remained about whether new default settings would be open or private, whether the touted recommendation system would suggest more strict or more lenient sharing of personal information, etc. At the end of the day, the laws of social networking dictate that sharing must be encouraged, and privacy must remain hard.

So, what happened? In short, Zuckerberg stuck with his past mantra that Facebook needs to get “people through this really big hurdle of getting people to want to put up their full name, a real picture, mobile phone number” and other personal information online. Facebook’s privacy upgrade, heralded as “transforming the world’s ability to control its information online”, is actually a privacy downgrade for users.

I’ve spent the last few days going over the new privacy settings, the transition tool, and playing with my settings. Unfortunately I’ve been delayed posting my own comments, so, instead of just adding more of the same criticisms, I’ll point readers to others’ comments that expose the critical flaws in Facebook’s new privacy paradigm:

  • Your first stop should be the ACLU of Northern California’s dot.Rights page “What does Facebook’s Privacy Transition Mean to You“. Here they have very helpful charts showing who can access what, what the different settings mean, and analyzing the transition tool.
  • The EFF’s Kevin Bankston has posted “Facebook’s New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly“, recognizing (as I did) that its great for Facebook to give users some control over individual posts, but exposing serious concerns over other changes:
    • the recommended settings tend to lean towards sharing information with everyone
    • certain information about you is now permanently “publicly available” without any ability for users to limit or control access
    • you can no longer opt out of sharing information with Facebook apps
    • the ability to restrict access to your friends list has become more difficult

Similar comments are found at ReadWriteWeb, CNet, Wired, and the New York Times.

In the end, it appears Facebook still has not learned its privacy lessons. It continues to bite off more than it should, shrouds its changes in the false rhetoric of “giving users more control”, and will eventually, I predict, roll-back some of these drastic shifts in the informational norms that previously dictated how information was shared among users of this social network.

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