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Facebook Lets You Have Privacy Your Way

By Renay San Miguel
Jun 25, 2009 11:11 AM PT

Your 21st birthday party will no doubt go down in the record books as a legendary debauch, but the photos of you doing jello shots off a stripper's belly won't be nearly as impressive to future employers as they are to your Facebook friends. So, Facebook made it easier Wednesday for you to decide exactly who gets to see those photos -- as long as you are the one doing the posting.

Facebook Lets You Have Privacy Your Way

The world's largest social network announced it is testing new privacy settings that will sit next to the update box at the top of your FB page.

"The new Publisher has been streamlined a bit, and its most significant improvement is the new Publisher Privacy Control that gives you the opportunity to answer the question, 'Who do you want to tell?' as easily as you answer the question, 'What's on your mind?' wrote Facebook engineer Olaoluwa Okelola on the company blog in describing the beta test.

"You may have some posts you want to share with a wide audience, such as whom you voted for or how great the weather is today," Okelola notes. "Other times you may have more personal updates like your new phone number or an invitation to join you at your favorite restaurant for dinner that are meant for only close or nearby friends."

The categories will look familar to those who have gone on their Settings page to lock in privacy for their Profile page: Everyone, Friends and Networks, Friends of Friends, Friends, and Custom (for picking and choosing among your friends).

Granular Control Comes to FB

The idea is to give a little more control to the 200 million-plus Facebook members, many of whom have complained loudly during the past year about any changes involving access to the information they share on the network. A previous terms-of-service change that would have let Facebook retain control of user information, even if the users were no longer members, met with howls of protests, and Facebook ended up backing away from its plans.

Will this move help? "I think it's a good idea, because Facebook has received some flak about privacy," Rob Ayoub, global program director for network security at Frost & Sullivan, told TechNewsWorld. "If you look at a lot of other social network sites, many of them already allow you to specify sorts of friends, groups and things like that."

Making the choices available on a per-update basis, with easy access to a settings button, is much more intuitive and user-friendly than having members drill down into their Settings page, Ayoub said. "Just because controls are already available, as in so many other things with security, if it's not easy to set up and intuitive, users won't set it up -- especially with Facebook, where it's not necessarily a tech-savvy audience."

Making Facebook Safer for Professionals?

Still, using a third-party application on Facebook opens up your profile information and list of friends to others, and currently approved friends with access to incriminating photos could become enemies later in life. Can Facebook ever truly protect a user's privacy?

"I think it's great they're offering some granular controls," Ayoub said. "People who have been concerned about privacy would be the first to adopt these things. But there's always a part of population who doesn't think anybody is looking. The users do kind of own the site, but [Facebook] can't fix all the privacy issues. They can just offer tools to address them."

More tools, however, could mean a more-appealing network for business and professional use, and the related advertising that goes along with that category, Ayoub added. Facebook may be heading toward a blend of the personal and professional that might appeal to members of LinkedIn, a social network that emphasizes professional contacts.

As it stands now, not everyone is able to access the new Facebook beta settings. Okelola updated her blog post Wednesday after acknowledging questions about who was eligible to take part: "Nothing has changed with your default privacy settings. The beta is only open to people who already chose to set their profile and status privacy to 'Everyone.' For those people, the default for sharing from the Publisher will be the same. If you have your default privacy set to anything else -- such as 'Friends and Networks' or 'Friends Only' -- you are not part of this beta."


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What is the most consequential impact of social media on society today?
It has opened up valuable new channels for civil discourse.
It has destroyed the meaning of "truth" and "fact."
It has made people stronger by facilitating grass roots activism.
It has deepened divisions among groups with opposing views.
It has made it easier for people to support and help each other.
It has made it easier for people to humiliate and hurt each other.