James Perrin

What’s Facebook’s Relationship Status with Privacy? ‘It’s Complicated’

24th Aug 2011 Social Media, Facebook 4 minutes to read

Facebook ScreenThe news that Facebook have announced a number of new privacy settings to their social network has got everyone in a bit of a tizz. Needless to say that the few changes they’ve made have been well received, but it wasn’t that long ago when the words ‘Facebook’ and ‘Privacy’ were like square pegs in round holes – the two just didn’t go together.

So What Are The Changes?

They’ve come up with a number of brand new privacy settings which rival new emerging platforms such as Google +. Chris Cox, Vice President of Product at Facebook, has stated the improvements have been made, “to make it easier to share posts, photos, tags and other content with exactly the people you want.”

Long gone are the days of searching menu after menu for the privacy settings, Facebook have indeed made things much much simpler. Some of the key changes are:

•    Content Privacy – Any content that’s on your profile, from the music you like to the latest photo albums, you’ll be able to select whether this can be seen by the ‘Public’ or  your ‘Friends’.

•    Tag Review – When you’re tagged in a photo, you now have the option to review the picture. If you don’t like it, you can remove the tag or even ask the person to take the photo down, all before that picture ever appears on your profile.

•    View Profile as – This is a really nifty tool that allows you to see exactly how your profile will look to others. When you’ve added some content, and made privacy changes, you can see exactly how your profile will look.

•    Privacy for your posts – When you post something, you may not want everyone to see your status updates. This new tool allows you to automatically select whether you want your status to be read by the ‘public’ or your ‘friends’.

Facebook have announced more changes, the full list of which can be found on the official blog, but haven’t we seen most of these privacy settings somewhere before?

Warding Off Competition

With the advent of Google + and much attention on the need for privacy in the digital age (primarily aimed towards Facebook admittedly), it appears that Facebook had to develop new privacy settings. When Google + hit the scene, its features and privacy settings were unrivalled, they had finally gotten the upper hand on Facebook by providing users with a more comprehensive social network, that was seemingly much simpler to control [See: Google +: The Long Awaited Social Network].

Post Google +, things weren’t getting any easier. Their market share figures had dropped for the second year with much attention focussed on Google’s new format, and in June they lost 6 million users from the US alone [See: Trouble Brewing for Facebook as Audience Figures Slip]. Was it that people were beginning to shun the imperious Facebook? And if so, on what basis?

Public Discontent

2011 has been somewhat of a topsy-turvy year for the social network giant. The rumblings of displeasure over changes made to the site earlier in the year, focussed on privacy and how public their information had become, as the BBC reported. The main catalyst for these protests may have had something to do with their ill fated ‘Tag Suggestions’ feature, where pictures are automatically tagged  pictures using facial recognition [See: Is Facebook’s Facial Recognition an Invasion of Privacy Too Far?]

It appears this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They had got the balance of public sharing and privacy totally wrong. With European privacy commissioners calling for better privacy settings and a changing mood amongst pockets of users, Facebook had to act or face losing more users.

Implications for the Changes

As Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg revealed, the platform has evolved since it launched in 2004 to the 700 odd million users it has today. “When we started, we built it around a few simple ideas. People want to share and stay connected with their friends and the people around them. When you have control over what you share, you want to share more. When you share more, the world becomes more open and connected.”

Part of Facebook’s evolution has had to take on board these recent privacy changes. However it isn’t clear what affect they’re going to have on users and more importantly advertisers. Selling adverts based on users profile content is what helps Facebook sell targeted adverts, something that Google and their search advertising do superbly with. This presents another challenge for them, the balance between supporting advertisers and the privacy of the user.

These changes do present a shifting balance, but watch this space, because Facebook’s relationship with Privacy just got a little more interesting.

Image Source

Facebook Screen via BigStock

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