You Can Change It Later

The Blog Of David Marks

Tuning those privacy controls on Facebook

Posted on | April 26, 2010 | No Comments

I’m extremely impressed with what Facebook launched at F8 last week — big ideas launched with stunning speed. At the same time, I have to chuckle at some of the unintended consequences of a brand new, not so well tested, social internet.

“This past weekend, one poor woman from Adelaide, Australia named Kate Miller found that 10,000, then 30,000, then 50,000 people had RSVPed for a private birthday party event she’d created on Facebook, to be held on May 1st — but neglected to set to “private.””

Very funny, at least for everyone but Kate.

This is by no means the only story about unintended consequences of open social data. It turns out that it’s possible to make an API request for the upcoming events of most users on Facebook Mark Zuckerberg included.

I’m not bringing these examples up as a way of discouraging open, social technologies on the web. I think the innovation is incredible right now in this area. A social web must, and will happen and I don’t think there’s any way to stop it.

Most users aren’t going to adjust their privacy controls, and even expert users (i.e. – Mark) are having issues keeping this all under control. The issue is not with a lack of controls — there are plenty of them. The problem is few people use them. Transparency about what is being shared and with who, and usabile privacy control mechanisms are huge challenges. There’s no dashboard and no steering wheel for privacy and we’re years away from any kind of ubiquitous privacy interface for our web identity.

And that’s the element of this ecosystem that needs attention: there is an opportunity to create more understandable, user-centric methods for controlling your privacy and sharing so there are fewer surprises. Right now, it’s too hard for users and it’s just starting to cause issues for people.

Follow up: This week there has been a lot more action on Facebook privacy, including this informative infographic from the NYTimes on the complexity of the actual privacy settings:

update 2: Matt McKeon produced a neat visualization which presents the availability and impact of your different facebook privacy settings. This is the kind of tool that helps people understand what the impact of their privacy settings are, as far as who receives what information about you.


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