Untangling Facebook’s Privacy Morasse

UPDATE: Facebook’s privacy woes have become such a problem that MySpace is seizing upon them as a way of wooing users (via @mashable), AND Facebook is set to launch “Simple” privacy options (via @wired).

Facebook has long had problems with how it handles the privacy of its users; there was the Beacon debacle, the News Feed flap, the difficulties users have had when they try to delete their account, the problem with privacy regarding Facebook Apps, and more recently the opening up of Facebook profiles to search engines.

A recent New York Times article pointed out that Facebook now has 50 settings with over 170 options.  I’ve been online since SixDegrees.com became the first social networking platform and even I have trouble managing my Facebook profile – imagine if you’re a less-than-savvy grandmother who just wants to look at pictures of the grandkids?

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All the way along, Facebook has done what benefits Facebook – not necessarily what benefits its users.  That isn’t necessarily unsurprising – however, they’ve not been transparent when they’ve made their decisions and implemented their policies.  Jeff Jarvis encapsulated this perfectly in a recent criticism of Facebook:

“Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg seem to assume that once something is public, it’s public. They confused sharing with publishing. They conflate the public sphere with the making of a public. That is, when I blog something, I am publishing it to the world for anyone and everyone to see: the more the better, is the assumption. But when I put something on Facebook my assumption had been that I was sharing it just with the public I created and control there. That public is private. Therein lies the confusion. Making that public public is what disturbs people.” – (Jeff Jarvis, “Confusing *a* public with *the* public”)

Facebook should be wary; there are no shortage of other social networking platforms and as profile information becomes more accessible and portable – it’s easier and easier for users to migrate to other sites.  The Information Superhighway is littered with the bloated corpses of social networking sites that didn’t take that reality to heart and failed as a result.

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