Facebook Reduces Its Privacy Options (Again)

Friday, October 11, 2013 - 10:17 AM

Yesterday, Facebook announced that users who've asked for their timelines to be unsearchable will now searchable. 

Facebook already removed the ability to sign up for the feature awhile back, but people who'd previously opted to were allowed to stay off the publicly searchable directory. No longer. Facebook says the change only effects a small percentage of users, but since billions of over a billion people use Facebook, a small percentage of users is probably equal to about one city full of humans. 

Most people won't notice. Some of those who do will be upset. It never feels good when a tech company takes back more of the blanket. But the practical implications of this aren't enormous.

If you're a celebrity who wants to use Facebook as a non-self-promoting civilian, your life just got slightly more cumbersome. If you're a non-celebrity who liked using Facebook while maintaining a modicum of privacy, well, you're down to about a half a modicum.* 

On Twitter, social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson put it nicely. He said he didn't much mind the change because it just made Facebook more of what Facebook is. A non-private place:

Facebook is a phonebook of front lawns. You can find almost anyone there, but all you'll see is their public face. Pictures of vacations and restaurant meals and 5k's, news about promotions. Everyone on my Facebook is getting engaged, but no one ever gets divorced. You see sadness, but the acceptable kind, like public disease and the deaths of relatives. If you want to share something more honest, or more dark, or less palatable, there are better places.

Right here is where I wanted to write a paragraph placing every single social media platform on a continuum of public or private, but I realized those aren't universal values. It depends on how you use them. Some people have private Twitter accounts where they vent about their jobs or their families. I try to keep Company Holiday Party levels of decorum. But there's never one right way. Even a service like Snapchat, which at first glance seems built for whispering, often gets used as a place not to broadcast: "Hey! Friends! Here's 8 seconds of my life, in grainy video!"

The companies decide the rules, and we decide how to break them, and when they change the rules the dance starts over. On OTM, we used to wonder when Facebook would end, and what would replace it. But now I'm learning that platforms adapt and people adapt, and we're left with a range of ways to speak to each other. It's actually not too bad.











*If I'm missing a third category of person who this inconveniences, someone for whom this privacy change will be more dire, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I bet there's someone (maybe an activist?) for whom this will matter in a way that I'm just not imagining. 

Update: 12:37PM Oh, right, so here's the boneheaded omission I made: victims of abuse or stalking could be more at risk under the new system.

Thanks to Mary Mazzocoo on Facebook and Skenatron on Twitter for pointing this out. Making everyone searchable certainly makes it much easier for a creep or abuser to find someone on Facebook. That's a shame. Maybe using Facebook pseudonymously, or signing off it entirely, is the modern equivalent of the unlisted number.  


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Comments [3]

SeparateChurch AndState

The evasive, unaccountable, sworn to secrecy, buzzword, and LDS/Mormon faithful Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (founder of the Federalist Society, and brother to the TEA-Hadists), has become like a second father to Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe the bonding began when the senior Utah Senator (who seems to relish flying under the public radar) invited the young Facebook founder to speak at the Technology Forum on March 25, 2011 on the campus of the LDS/Mormon church owned Brigham Young University (BYU). Perhaps the bonding continued after LDS/Mormon church authorities announced free Google internet for Provo, Utah and the future construction of a multi-story high rise building in Provo, Utah to host some of the 70,000 young missionaries who will be using social networking tools for worldwide proselytizing. The bonding apparently has continued with the August 2013 immigration reform discussions hosted in Lehi, Utah, and attended by Senator Hatch and executives from Utah-based tech firms and investors. Not surprisingly Mark Zuckerberg's political advocacy group, FWD.us has released national TV ads on cable outlets and 13 major TV broadcast markets aimed to rally the public's support for Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s immigration legislation. My question is just how many of the other technology companies were invited to attend Utah Senator Orrin Hatch’s immigration meetings? Is Utah Senator Orrin Hatch watching out for only the present and future technology companies of his fellow brotherhoods?

Oct. 14 2013 02:47 PM

Well, for users that started with Facebook back when it was only for college kids with an edu email, the network was built on a level of trust. Trust that what was posted there was not like MySpace but only available to people you trusted with your information. Naivety, we call it now but back when this was new- you would have shared WAAY more than you would today. I think it is a disgrace to take the billions of users (whom probably don't even understand what that change means) and force people aware of the consequences into the public light. Facebook has a terrible track record for permanent deleting. This is placing undue strain on users. From victims of stalking, sexual assault, and violence to activists sharing information that risks their lives and even job seekers that wouldn't want the photos a distant acquaintance posted of their first drunken party at age 18- it puts profits ahead of people.

Oct. 11 2013 05:09 PM

In my profession (college teaching) there's a lot of discussion about whether or not to friend our students. I try in general not to friend younger folks but then I was in a community play and some of the high schoolers wanted to friend me. I planned a study abroad trip I didn't go on and wanted to follow the students' updates. I befriended an international student at my current institution through a friendship program and she wanted to know if I was on FB. I still use it for crowd sourcing grading help when I'm puzzled. Perhaps its good for younger students to see some of the inside processes of grading? I dunno. I try to mostly keep it all front lawn appropriate but in my prior residence I had a friend who liked to post pictures from all the lezzie parties I've gone to. I'm out, but do I want students seeing me in my party duds? I dunno. All in all I rather liked that I wasn't searchable on FB. And especially being on the job market... but on some level I figure search committees want to hire a whole person, not just a cover letter. But I still hope they don't find my FB profile.

Oct. 11 2013 11:48 AM

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TLDR is a short podcast and blog about the internet by Meredith Haggerty. You can subscribe to the TLDR podcast here. You can follow our blog here. I tweet @manymanywords and @tldr.

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