Facebook Privacy Changes: Be Informed, Be Very Informed!

Email from my dad this morning:
“I just went on Facebook and agreed to God knows what and perhaps I shall live to regret it.”

…which is, I’m guessing, the reaction a lot of people had to the new Privacy changes Facebook rolled out this week. Unfortunately, nonsense EULAs have trained the average user to just click through legalese looking popups. If you did this, you want to go back into Facebook’s privacy settings and take a look around. By agreeing to Facebook’s new Recommended privacy settings, you just made your entire profile and all associated content open to “Everyone” on Facebook and the Internet. The “Everyone” privacy option was added by Facebook over the summer, but vast majority of users didn’t opt for it, preferring the previous default privacy settings of “Your Networks and Friends.” By making the new default “Everyone,” Facebook hugely impacts how users share their data without fully informing the users of the changes they are making. Why would they do this? Well, heard the term “real time search” being bandied about by the technophiles in your life recently? That’s why. The more information Facebook can get its users to share publicly, the bigger and shinier its offers are to search engines like Bing! and Google. Remember, your friends may be on Facebook, but Facebook Inc. is not your friend. It’s a business, built on the activities and content of its users (that’d be you). The more ways Facebook can find to exploit and monetize that content, the happier it’ll be.

As sketchy as that is, abuse of the default is not the end of the troubling changes at Facebook. There is a category of information Facebook calls “Publicly Available.” This is information that appears when someone attempts to access your profile without the proper permissions (like being your friend or having a Facebook account). Under the previous privacy regime, you could restrict what information was considered “Publicly Available.” Wanna guess what you can do now?

Damn near nothing. The following information is now considered by Facebook to be “Publicly Available”:
-Profile Picture
-Current City
-Pages you are a “fan” of
-Friends list

And here’s the kicker: with the exception of your friends list, you cannot change the privacy settings for any of this. To change the privacy setting of your Friends list, don’t look under “Privacy Setting.” You’ll find that control now buried in your “Friends Settings.”

The last major change in Facebook’s privacy policy is how it shares your information with 3rd party Facebook apps and their developers. The Canadian Privacy Commissioner has previously stated his concerns over the ability of 3rd party developers to collect the personal information of Facebook users, including those who don’t use apps. There used to be an option for those of us who preferred to keep our information from being shared with app developers. Wanna guess what happened to it?

Yep. It’s gone now. 3rd party apps and their developers now have access to all of you “Publicly Available Information” whenever you or a friend of yours adds an app.

So, breakdown:
-Facebook’s Recommended Privacy Settings: NOT RECOMMENDED
-You name, profile pic, gender, current city, networks, friends list and pages you are a “fan” of are all considered to be PUBLICLY AVAILABLE INFORMATION which you CANNOT make private
-You can no longer opt out of sharing your info with 3rd party Facebook apps, even if you don’t sign up for them yourself.

For a more detailed analysis of the changes and their implications, here’s some recommended reading:
The EFF: Facebook’s New Privacy Changes: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
The Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s Official Report
The ACLU: Facebook Privacy in Transition-But Where is it Heading?