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Facebook’s Unveils New Privacy Controls, Possibly Spurred on by Success of Google+

Posted on the 24 August 2011 by Periscope
Facebook’s unveils new privacy controls, possibly spurred on by success of Google+

Facebook. Photo credit: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid


In a blog post yesterday,

Facebook has long faced criticism from privacy experts that it doesn’t give its users enough control over their personal information, and only last week was found in breach of privacy laws in Germany. So, although the latest changes have been cautiously welcomed in most quarters, there remains a good deal of cynicism about both the motivation for Facebook’s announcement and whether the changes go far enough. “Any privacy enhancement from Facebook is bound to be two steps forward, one step back,” as Ryan Tate put it at Gawker. “That’s how they roll.”

  • What has Facebook changed? According to the Facebook blog post, “Your profile should feel like your home on the web – you should never feel like stuff appears there that you don’t want, and you should never wonder who sees what’s there.” Dodging the question of why many Facebook users clearly haven’t felt like that so far, the blog went on to describe a series of changes that should make users feel more comfortable. The first major change is “Inline Profile Controls.” What this means is that, rather than having to click through to a separate Privacy Settings page to control who can see what, those settings will now be displayed next to every piece of information and every post on your profile. The second major change affects the way photo tagging works. In the past, the blog acknowledged, “Photos you were tagged in would show up on your profile as soon as you were tagged.” The mortification of seeing last night’s drunken escapades pop up on your Facebook profile against your will is a universally hated aspect of modern, socially networked life, and Facebook admitted that “One of the top requests we’ve heard is for the ability to approve these tags before they show up on your profile.” From now on, Facebook users will be able to enable an option that lets them approve or reject any photo that they are tagged in before anyone else gets to see it. Most commentators agreed that these were positive changes. “I was impressed by Facebook’s updated privacy announcements today,” wrote MG Siegler at TechCrunch. “Finally, after years of menus – and menus filled with menus – and menus filled with menus filled with drop-downs — we’re getting simple, direct privacy options right on the page. I’m sure some people will still bitch and moan because well, it’s Facebook. But at least on the surface, these changes look good.”
  • Some people bitching and moaning. For some, Facebook has not gone far enough. IT Security expert Graham Cluley, writing at the Sophos blog Naked Security, said “Although I’m pleased to see what appears to be Facebook simplifying its privacy settings, and making them more visible, it has missed an opportunity to lead the way on privacy.” Cluley bemoaned the fact that most of the new privacy controls still require Facebook users to activate them, rather than being the default options. Facebook should operate “on the basis that everything is locked down until a new user opens up each feature,” he wrote. “Facebook should not wait until the regulators in the world’s developed economies start legislating to make it do a better job. If they took the lead, people would love them all the more in the end.” Richard Waters at The Financial Times shared Cluley’s frustration, welcoming the changes but adding that “as often with such developments on Facebook, there are also reasons for caution.” Waters pointed out that alongside the improved privacy controls, “The power to tag has been extended: not just direct contacts, but anyone will now be able to identify you in pictures…Each time this happens it will only appear on your page if you approve it – but the control only extends to your own page.” Gary Marshall at techradar called Facebook’s announcement “cynical but welcome,” and urged dissatisifed Facebook users to keep “whingeing and moaning” for better privacy features. “Whenever there’s a privacy scare Facebook does the bare minimum it can get away with, and when it thinks nobody’s looking the privacy fiddling starts all over again,” he wrote. Marshall argued that the enthusiastic response to Google+’s privacy controls may have pushed Facebook to make these changes, and claimed that user frustration could drive even more changes in the future. “The moral is clear,” he said. “If you can’t beat ‘em, moan about ‘em. You never know who’s listening.”
  • Thanks, Google+? The idea that Facebook’s latest changes are a response to the threat posed by Google+ is a popular one. Google’s new social network won widespread praise for its tight privacy controls, and many have seen Facebook’s announcement as a catch-up move. The Guardian called Facebook’s new sharing options “a nod to the popularity of ‘circles’ in Google+,” The Independent claimed that “Facebook pays homage to Google+ with enhanced sharing options,” and Hubspot declared that “Facebook copies Google+ sharing.” Facebook, unsurprisingly, denied that they were merely aping their rival. The Drum quoted a Facebook spokesperson as saying that “All of the improvements announced have been in the works for the last six months,” while Chris Cox popped up in The Guardian piece to reject the Google comparison. “People will always talk about Google no matter what we do and that’s fine,” he said. “We’re not using Google to determine the work we do…We just want people to be clear on the differences between sharing behaviours.” Whether Facebook is leading or following, at least one analyst thought that they had outmaneuvered Google. Robert Scoble argued that “the threat from Google+ has been largely neutered because of these changes,” and went on to say that “Google hasn’t demonstrated that it is able to keep up with the features of Facebook and it hasn’t turned on real-time search, noise filtering, sifting, or, tons of other features that are needed yet, so the race is on. Today’s announcements show that the race is gonna be interesting at minimum.”

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