I’m sure many of you are aware of Facebook’s ‘new’ privacy settings (take note of the inverted commas) that were rolled-out a couple of days ago. Facebook, understandably, was in a very compromising position back then, holding secret meetings, while Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO, made something of an effort to appear in photographs, sweating profusely and looking quite unhinged, wherever possible. Whether he’s genuinely going insane, or this is just a display to show that he genuinely cares about the privacy of his users, is subject to debate.
So, what do the ‘new’ settings actually do? Not much, to be honest. They seem to be more of a clarification of Facebook’s existing settings, this time with the addition of ‘recommended’ settings for those who don’t have the time to safeguard their privacy online. Shame on you. More alarmingly, from a PR standpoint, the page neglects some key messages that Facebook should be placing front and centre. The admission that Facebook doesn’t share profile data with advertisers isn’t exactly comforting (instead Facebook are assuming the role of would-be advertising arbiters, which is just as bad) but is something that they need to definitely shout about more. Copywriters and content strategists everywhere are simultaneously spontaneously combusting, I’m sure. Also, their bit about protecting minors that is squashed in at the bottom of the page? Please.
I don’t really think this ‘major rehaul’ counts for much. Unless you’re going for the ‘recommended’ settings (which you shouldn’t), everything is exactly as it was before, only tarted up with a fancy new page which lets you access different groups of privacy settings. Facebook, and Zuckerberg said earlier on this week that they wanted to make customising settings as easy as possible. Sure, they let you clearly see what settings you’re currently using, but changing them is a completely different matter. I thought the page that’s depicted on Facebook’s new ‘privacy guide’ would be clickable, letting you change your settings then and there. This would have been intuitive. Instead, if you do want to modify anything, you’re led to Facebook’s old, unfriendly page of drop-down boxes. To be honest, I’m disappointed. I expected more, even from Facebook.
Whether people agree with, or like the ‘new’ settings remains to be seen. Quit Facebook Day is still going ahead. However, I think that Facebook have missed a chance to address a key problem: decentralisation. Decentralisation is a good, nay, a wonderful thing in most cases. With the proliferation of Facebook mania, with things such as Facebook Connect, which has lead to users creating content independent to Facebook, under their Facebook identity, which Facebook themselves have no control over. The implications of this have yet to be seen, but it is worrying knowing that Facebook have masterminded such a scheme to get people to share online (a very good thing) while implying, through association, protection over these new content streams (not a good thing). Am I suggesting that Facebook further police all content produced by its users? Hell no. It just needs to be a lot clearer about its jurisdiction in these matters.
All that’s left is to wait and see what happens.
What do you think of the ‘new’ privacy settings? Do leave a comment and let me know!
I’ve just been on BBC Radio Solent, speaking to the lovely Steve Harris about my views on Facebook and privacy.
If you’ve been keeping up-to-date, you’ll know that Facebook have been having something of a hard time, recently, what with Quit Facebook Day fast approaching. They’re set to announce new, simpler privacy settings this evening, and I’ll be keeping my ears open. I think Facebook have certainly been abusing their position as a makeshift Information Commissioner, for those familiar with the Data Protection Act.
Something that I think has flown completely under the radar, however, is Facebook’s radical redesign of its users’ ‘Information’ pages; a former space where you could write to your heart’s content about what you’re interested in, in whatever format you desired. All this changed a few, short weeks ago, when Facebook essentially catalogued each one of these ‘interests’ as fan pages. Essentially, you can no longer like anything without ‘Liking’ it. I think this is bad for two reasons. Firstly, it removes any notion of individualism from the site, as users are now defined by the connections that tether them to a predetermined set of interests. Confusing, right?
For example, say I like The Beatles. I don’t think this would define me absolutely, as there are many types of Beatles fans. This is obvious. I could, say, insist that I like their ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, but not their later psychedelic ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. That little difference is what defines me as a certain type of Beatles fan. It’s what signifies me as myself. Under Facebook’s new information regime, I wouldn’t be able to just type that in the ‘Music’ section of my Facebook profile. I’d only be able to include that I’m a fan of The Beatles, which doesn’t really say anything about me at all. It’s these differences in opinion, expression, and even syntax that define me as a person. Instead, I’m now forced to live my life as an all-encompassing Beatles fan. I’m forced into a convenient pigeonhole, where I define myself through a predetermined list of interests. The network has lost its dynamicism, which is a very sad thing.
Why have Facebook done such a thing, then? To move on to my second point, to further exploit us as commodities to advertisers. Thanks to this new hierarchy, Facebook now (potentially) can map out advertising reach a lot easier, by saying to advertisers, ‘Look, we’ve got X number of Beatles fans that you can advertise to!’ The new system will clearly make number crunching a whole lot easier to sell us, and our information, which some of us are unwittingly giving away.
My main gripe is that Facebook has lost its focus. When I first discovered the social network back in 2006, I was attracted to its simplicity and uniform layout, as opposed to MySpace. When Applications arrived, I balked. Slowly, Facebook has turned its users into commodities, which we can see clearly now, and we’re very, very angry.
I’m very eager to find out what Mark Zuckerberg comes out with this evening. I’ll be listening intently, probably along with the rest of the world.