Monday, April 26, 2010

The Facebook privacy treadmill

It's almost become a joke: Facebook makes a change to its privacy settings that opts you in to a bunch of scary stuff, the entire Internet flips out about it, it rolls back the change, and then a few months or years later, it makes the same or a very similar update, opting you in to it again. It would be funny, if it weren't getting so damned insulting. ...

Among other things, Facebook this week announced new "personalization" changes--the stickiest of them being Instant Personalization, which shares all your publicly available information (name, profile picture, gender, and "Connections," another new way for you to publicize all the things you're interested in) with, right now, three partner sites: Yelp, Pandora, and Docs.com. It's sticky because, as with most of Facebook's annoying new features, it's opt-out.

Instant Personalization also shares your list of friends, as well as those friends' public information, with these partner sites. And again: you have to opt out of this feature, and even if you do, your public information will still be shared, if your friends remain opted in. The only way to stop that from happening, according to Facebook's fine print, is to actually block the application entirely. ...

Now, there does seem to be an answer in Facebook's byzantine maze of privacy settings, under the heading, "What your friends can share about you." This lets you control what applications and Web sites can learn about you from your friends. It's unclear how this might affect "Instant Personalization" (see how that pattern of confusion and obfuscation just rolls on?), but wow, hey, look at all the things that are prechecked here!


It's almost quaint that Facebook didn't precheck my relationship status or religious views. So, you're telling me that "Instant Personalization" aside, my friends could be sharing nearly everything I put in my profile or on my wall or anywhere else with any application or Web site they use? Huh. Good to know. ...

Most users, minus those who now predictably freak out about privacy with every little change, will probably ignore their new settings or--and this is just so nefarious and sleazy--make a change that's essentially useless (like opting out of Instant Personalization without blocking applications or even spotting the screen that says your friends are still busy sharing everything you're "protecting"). ...

There's nothing wrong with making a little money. Heck, there's nothing wrong with making a lot of money. But you should not, Facebook, get to make that money by tricking me into making personal information public, by creating an increasingly baffling web of privacy-violating loopholes, and by opting me in to every new moneymaking scheme you come up with. That's how you lose user trust, and losing user trust is how you lose users.
--Molly Woods, CNET, on the power of profitable defaults and deception

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