Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It’s Facebook’s World, But Do We Want To Live In It?

Case 1: A week ago I was asking a colleague about a movie she went to watch on a Thursday evening. Surprised, she asked how I knew she had gone to watch a movie. I told her I found out on Facebook. she said she doesn’t use Facebook. The information, with a picture and the name of the movie, was posted on Facebook by the person she went with.

Case 2: The technical events person had been calling me for years inviting me to corporate technology events. I attended a few, didn’t attend most, but for years all I knew was a name, an email address and a voice on the phone. I finally went online, popped in the person’s name and had their LinkedIn and Facebook pages in seconds. LinkedIn gave me their personal history. Facebook showed me pictures of their 3 children.

Welcome to the new world where you actions, your whereabouts, your very life may be posted online by you, or someone else with or without your knowledge, and a vast number of people may know so much more about you than you imagine. As discussed in an older post, Facebook started out as a closed system where you connected with friends and had tight control over who had access to your personal information. Last year, Facebook changed that by unveiling a set of privacy settings that pushed you towards making your private data a lot more public.

On the 21st of April, 2010 at their F8 Conference, Facebook made their 2009 moves seem like the scurrying of a mouse compared to their giant strides this year. This is not a developer post, so I won’t discuss things from that perspective but if you are a developer, you can start from here to read about the changes and what you can do with them.

For those of us who just use Facebook, the changes represent either a great new set of features to make the internet as a whole a richer experience, or it represents greater intrusion of Facebook into our lives than we are comfortable with. For most it will probably be a mix of both.

We could go into the details of the new features, but how about looking at the changes they have made to their privacy settings to start with? They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I’ll post screenshots of the most important sections. They are pretty self-explanatory.


The consistent theme you will see across the screens is the ability to restrict who can interact with you on Facebook to “Everyone,  Friends of Friends, Only Friends, or Customize”. Customize lets you become very detailed up to and including specific user names.

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So make the changes you want or accept the default changes, but make a definite choice as to what Facebook shares about you. One tool that answers the question: “What does Facebook publish about you and your friends” is http://zesty.ca/facebook/. Pop over to the site, put in your Facebook ID and see what the world can see about you. Then you can go back to the Facebook privacy pages and adjust the settings to your taste. Oh, and click on the Facebook “Like” button below before you leave.