23 October 2013

In Facebook’s walled empire, confusion over privacy still reigns

’s privacy settings have been convoluted and confusing for as long as I can remember; it almost became silently accepted that nobody understands them completely – maybe not even the people building the site! Last week I ran into the perfect example of this on my own timeline, in the form of the post below:

It sounds like a chain-mail and in a way that’s what this is. I saw similar texts popping up from time to time in my timeline and I usually ignore them, but this time I actually reacted to all the inconsistencies and misinformation in the text. I haven’t said that much in my comment, but here’s the extended version:

  • after finding all of my photos located on another site: well, Facebook has already taken the liberty to use your name and photo in ‘Sponsored stories’. Also, by accepting the terms of service you practically give Facebook unlimited rights to your content, including photos:
    For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it. Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy
  • I want to be able to publish photos of my friends and family without strangers being able to see them: well, that’s what the privacy setting ‘Friends only’ is for! Most of the content she posts, including personal photos of her, is set to ‘Public’, so no wonder anybody can potentially access it. I pointed this out to her and it didn’t go down well. It doesn’t help that Facebook defaults to sharing everything in public, as long as you don’t make a conscious effort to restrict things. But it also provides a tool to make everything you shared in the past (sort-of) private again: ‘Limit the Audience for Past Posts’ and I suggested that in my comment as well.
    When you publish content or information using the Public setting, it means that you are allowing everyone, including people off of Facebook, to access and use that information, and to associate it with you (i.e., your name and profile picture). Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy
  • Last, but not least, there is no such thing as “Graphic app”. I’m pretty sure she – or whoever wrote the text first – is actually referring to the new Graph Search. People can indeed find your posts and photos using Graph Search, but, at least according to the official information, only if they’re friends with you or if the posts are set to public – which brings it right back to the previous point! The proposed solution to this ill-understood problem has nothing to do with Graph Search, the post mixes up privacy settings (what you allow others to see) with newsfeed filters (what others choose to see from your updates). Graph Search can potentially surface many things that would have otherwise remained hidden by newer updates, but the content would be visible on your Timeline even without search and anyone with enough perseverance could find it.

Leaving aside the fact that the changes she’s requesting have no effect on privacy, it’s simply irresponsible to rely on others to keep your ‘secrets’ when you don’t do it yourself. Turning the problem around, would she – or anyone for that matter – spend a couple of hours going through her friends list and changing those visibility settings one by one? Isn’t it easier to set your default to ‘friends only’ for everything that matters to you – or, shocking concept, I know, just not post sensitive stuff online?!

And there’s the silent threat that if I don’t do this I will be unfriended… Hmm, in the week that passed only a hand-full of people have commented on the post, confirming that they’ve gone through the meaningless steps that will change absolutely nothing; probably less that 10% of her friends even saw the update. Am I supposed to believe she will cut her friends list down to 10-15 people?! Not bloody likely!

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