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  • 12.11.09

User Backlash Forces Facebook Privacy Tweaks, Again

Yesterday Facebook launched its attempt to push users into public posts, disguised as a privacy overhaul to safeguard them instead. I called it out for dodgy dealings, and it turns out many users did too. Facebook’s changed stuff again.

Mark Zuckerberg

Yesterday Facebook launched its attempt to push users into public posts, disguised as a privacy overhaul to safeguard them instead. I called it out for dodgy dealings, and it turns out many users did too. Facebook’s changed stuff again.

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On the whole Facebook’s tweaks to the privacy policies it uses for personal info on its users seemed a good thing, even if what the move really was a thinly veiled attempt to drive more of its users to post their status updates to everyone, which would give Facebook a seriously big handhold in the real-time net searching game.

But a couple of the moves seemed better for Facebook than Facebookers, things like the default settings for privacy being “transmit to the public” rather than to just friends. And the biggest, if the most subtle, change in this direction was Facebook grabbing a whole bunch of your personal data and deeming that it was all now “publicly accessible information” (PAI). That’s a seriously nasty move for those more cautious Facebookers who prefer to be private.

And it was noticed. Of course it was always going to be noticed–when you basically bare-facedly try to sell out your 500 million users, some of them are going to complain. And apparently a lot complained, because Facebook last night issued a new change to the new changes. That first land-grab of PAI included making your list of friends available to everyone, whether they were logged in to Facebook or not. In a blog post last night Facebook reversed course on this (“in response to your feedback” as they put it…yeah right) and “improved” the friendship settings so you can now hide your friend list more fully.

The main comment on this is, “What the hell were Facebook thinking?” followed closely by, “Do they even care how their users use the system?” It’s yet another move that’s upset the userbase. Think of it in terms of a school hallway argument: “I just saw on Facebook you’re friends with X. Why? You know I hate her. I thought you were my best friend!”

But, sadly, I suspect the answer is that Mark Zuckerberg and his team really don’t care about these issues, or at least their multi-million dollar ivory tower has distanced them from their core users too much. Because as Facebook notes in the new blog post, your friends lists are still open to everyone via Apps. And you know how to backlash against that don’t you? Ditch your apps, guys. Is Farmville (a.k.a. Scamville) really that much fun anyway?

Update: Here’s a fabulous, ironic and sweetly amusing result of the new privacy changes–affecting Mark Zuckerberg himself. Yes, you’ve guessed it, lots of his personal data has suddenly fallen through the privacy settings and are now viewable by everyone. As revealed by Web site TrueSlant, things like his event calendar. His photos, and photos by friends that have tagged him, including the two rather exquisite ones shown here. Now either Mark is really, really chilled out about Net privacy, or he made a boo-boo. Which one is it?

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I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.

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