Personal Technology Social Networks

Adventures In Facebook: Privacy Warning, Another UI Change Coming

Earlier this month, after reading Renay San Miguel’s article on Facebook application access to private information, I posted:

I’ve removed 80 percent of my FB applications and double-checked/changed permissions on the remaining few. Most of the [remaining] apps are there for my convenience: they allow me to post to FB from “outside” but none can access my data unless I’m using the application.

My announcement came in the wake of Facebook’s apparent effort to push members to share their postings by setting “everyone” as the default audience for four categories of information:

  • about me;
  • family and relationships;
  • work and education; and
  • posts (status updates, links, photos, videos and notes).

Facebook To Change UI. Again.

Tonight I learned that one of my most useful applications — Memorable Web Addresses — was slated to be removed from my profile page (along with its functionality) “over the next few weeks.”

Why do I use this application? It provides my original short Facebook URL:

The culprit? Another UI change.

Facebook is reportedly removing the “boxes” tab from the user interface. With the spring redesign, applications like Memorable Web Addresses (used for Facebook Groups and Business/Artist/Band/Politician Pages as well as personal profiles) were relegated to “boxes”. (No, that descriptor made no sense to me, either.)

How many folks in that list — groups, etc. — do you think have clicked on their “boxes” tab lately? Right. (I have no idea why MWA hasn’t sent me a Facebook “email;” maybe it doesn’t have permission?)

I followed the directions provided by the Memorable Web Addresses application, and now it has its own tab. Yeah, saved from the virtual dust bin! [Update: I removed it from the tabs and added it as an info section instead.]

Then I went back to my privacy settings.

I wanted to make sure that my settings from July regarding use of my profile picture in adverts had remained intact. Back in July, if you missed it, we learned that Facebook had set as the default that it would be “OK” to put our profile images in an ad for our friends to see.

Guess what? That setting seems to have disappeared. Surprised?

But I found something else … I have to explicitly exercise control over what my friends can share about me via their applications.

Facebook Apps Privacy - Before
Before: What Friends Could Share About Me Via Apps
After: What Friends Can Share About Me Via Apps
After: What Friends Can Share About Me Via Apps

Yeah, read that again. Even though I have said “share x-information only with friends” … if a friend’s application wants to know that bit, it will have access unless I tweak these settings, too. And there is no way to know how that application will then use my data.

Facebook uses an innocuous example, applications that prompt your friends to send you special birthday greetings, for example. After all, there is nothing we can easily do to keep friends from seeing our birthday (I hate-hate-hate that Facebook publishes birth year by default with no way to customize it), so anyone could share that info with “the world” if they wanted to.

Do you really want your friend’s application to have access to your photos of your kids?

And we don’t know what those nameless developers will do with our data.

Moreover, Facebook has quietly (at least among consumers) closed its verified applications program, a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval”  process that helped grease the wheels of third-party application trust. Rather than verify compliance upfront, Facebook will now respond retroactively. To our complaints of abuse. This is not unlike locking the barn door after someone steals your horse.

So exercise control over your personal data. Now!

Go here: Settings -> Applications and Websites -> What your friends can share about you

And prepare to be amazed. That’s my before-and-after (click the images for full-size screen captures). I have left “links” and “notes” shareable, because good links have probably already been shared on Twitter and my notes serves as a platform for this blog.

Growing Pains
Facebook has rapidly evolved from a closed network — only .edu addresses need apply, access restricted to the .edu community — to one where anyone could join, from a closed network where people felt (falsely) that their digital information was “private” to one where members are being strong-armed to bare all. This is a major cultural change.

As Justin Smith wrote earlier this week:

Facebook isn’t satisfied with a mostly-private platform: it wants to be the single place where both sensitive personal information is shared and public memes spread.

I think the tension between those goals is too great, at least today. Many people have suggested that Facebook eclipsed MySpace in part because it was more “private.” And even digital natives have expressed concern about the openness of Twitter, a space where anyone can “follow” anyone else, no permission required.

Will Facebook members placidly accept the default recommendations that open their private data to Bing and Google? Or will they say “Hell, no” and slam the door, keeping their private bits private?

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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