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May 2010

Facebook, 2010

Where would we be without Facebook? For one thing, I could be spending time much more happily — reading, writing, gardening, walking … instead of trying to follow the labyrinth that is Facebook. 

The developments announced on 21 April have taken some time to digest and even now I’m not satisfied that we’re clear what differentiation there is for users below the age of 18. But in any case, I noticed last autumn that some users applying for university places were tidying up their profiles and photo albums — and, of course, for a number of these young students their eighteenth birthday was then upon them or imminent. Time-clocks ticking, biologically and digitally.

I posted something on our intranet today about the latest changes. The context and purpose required my having to overlook the good in all Facebook announced. Chris Messina wrote about this, as did David Recordon and DeWitt Clinton. But, as Tom Watson re-tweeted, ‘Facebook privacy settings are the new programming your VCR’ and, as several friends found, the post-f8 experience was … trying. (See Tony Hirst’s Keeping Up with Facebook Privacy Changes (Again) and Why I Joined the Facebook Privacy Changes Backlash…)

I would love, too, to have got more into my intranet posting of danah boyd’s latest writings on privacy, personal data, trust, context and the web (see, eg, Putting Privacy Settings in the Context of Use (in Facebook and elsewhere)Facebook’s move ain’t about changes in privacy norms — ‘Privacy is about having control of a situation. It’s about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways. It’s about creating certainty so that we can act appropriately. People still care about privacy because they care about control’; Privacy and Publicity in the Context of Big Data — ‘Privacy is not about control over data nor is it a property of data. … it’s about having control over a situation. It’s about understanding the audience and knowing how far information will flow. It’s about trusting the people, the situating, and the context.  People seek privacy so that they can make themselves vulnerable in order to gain something: personal support, knowledge, friendship, etc.’). But I hope I hinted at some of this just enough.

The difficulty with something as complex as these latest changes is not to put the reader off entirely and I asked a couple of folks, a student and a colleague, to vet the post first, fearing it was a swamp of detail. But as John (student) said: ‘On the issue of the information being a “swamp”‚ there’s not much anyone can do about it: Facebook privacy settings appear deliberately difficult to learn about and change. It reads well in despite of this.’ Kind words — and here’s the posting (it may have use beyond its immediate … context).

*****

Facebook and Privacy — May, 2010 

‘it may be best if you just assume that everything on Facebook will be public from now on and act accordingly’

 RWW: Facebook’s High Pressure Tactics: Opt-in or Else


Last December, Facebook changed its privacy settings. These and their implications were summarised on our intranet at the time.

On 21 April, Facebook announced a number of further, complicated changes. Some of the features users now need to understand include the following. All have privacy implications. (Note: if you have previously adjusted your privacy settings and not accepted Facebook's defaults, your experience of one or more of these new features may differ in some ways from what follows. You should check.)

  • Community Pages: a new kind of Page, replacing interests and activities. These pages are public.
  • Connected Profiles: opt-in, but ‘if you refuse to link to these new Pages, your profile information will be removed and your profile page will be left empty.’ — RWW: Facebook’s High Pressure Tactics: Opt-in or Else
  • Connections: treated as public information.
  • “Like” button: ‘When you click the button on an external website, you authorize Facebook to publish your activity to your Facebook profile (which, in turn, will also be published to your friends’ news feeds). Also, when your friends visit the external site, they will see that you’ve visited that site, too.’ — PCWorld: Facebook: 5 Privacy Settings You Must Tweak Now
  • Instant Personalisation (currently, this involves just three sites: Microsoft DocsPandoraYelp). The “Allow” checkbox for Instant Personalization is on by default — you have to opt out. If you don’t opt out, ‘when you visit these sites, they can pull in information from your Facebook account, which includes your name, profile picture, gender and connections (and any other information that you’ve made visible to the public).’ — PCWorld: Facebook: 5 Privacy Settings You Must Tweak Now

There’s a summary and “translation” of most of these terms (along with some others) on the EFF site: A Handy Facebook-to-English Translator. If you’re on Facebook, you should read this.

Within a week of the April announcement, 50,000 websites had already integrated with Facebook’s new social plugins (such as the “Like” button), including major sites such as CNN and The New York Times.

You also need to appreciate that Facebook applications access your personal data:

… many everyday Facebook users were shocked to find that applications (like quizzes) could access almost everything on a user profile, including hometown, groups you belong to, events attended, favorite books, and more. What’s worse is that your profile information becomes available to developers when your friends take the same quiz. — RWW: How to Delete Facebook Applications (and Why You Should)

That last point is important: for example, ‘Even if you opt out of Instant Personalization, there’s still data leakage if your friends use Instant Personalization websites — their activities can give away information about you, unless you block those applications individually.’ — EFF: A Handy Facebook-to-English Translator.

Whereas until 21 April Facebook apps could only store your data for 24 hours, now your data can be retained indefinitely.


All Facebook users would do well to look at another EFF post, Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline (‘Watch closely as your privacy disappears, one small change at a time!’). From there:

Since its incorporation just over five years ago, Facebook has undergone a remarkable transformation. When it started, it was a private space for communication with a group of your choice. Soon, it transformed into a platform where much of your information is public by default. Today, it has become a platform where you have no choice but to make certain information public, and this public information may be shared by Facebook with its partner websites and used to target ads.

Last week, Nick Bilton, Lead Technology Writer, The New York Timesreported on Twitter:

2010-04-29_23.26.53 adjusted.jpg


There’s huge value to personalisation and to sharing information. As Mark Zuckerberg wrote on 21 April: ‘if you’re logged into Facebook and go to Pandora for the first time, it can immediately start playing songs from bands you’ve liked across the web. And as you’re playing music, it can show you friends who also like the same songs as you, and then you can click to see other music they like’.

But personalisation means accepting some loss of privacy and you need to assess the value and the “risks” of this for yourself. Above all, users want to be in control of the context in which their information is used and when a company makes changes which affect this you simply must re-assess the situation.

The advice at the top of this page should be heeded: ‘it may be best if you just assume that everything on Facebook will be public from now on and act accordingly’.


A video and some links you may find helpful:

  (the blog post referred to in the video: EFF: How to Opt Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization)

PCWorld: Facebook: 5 Privacy Settings You Must Tweak Now

RWW: How to Delete Facebook Applications (and Why You Should)

Facebook: de-activating your account (you need to be logged in to Facebook to see this link)

Facebook: deleting your account (you need to be logged in to Facebook to see this link)