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Monday, 17 January 2011

Facebook's privacy - more unacceptable each day

*UPDATE* it seems they may have backtracked on this change.

*UPDATE 2 1 Mar 2011* And are now going to re-enable it anyway after the initial storm has blown over:

I just read the Inquirer article on Facebook's address/phone exposing to apps. It appears that they now allow 'application' developers to gain access to your address and mobile number. Now I suspect it's not coincidence that the new facebook profile encourages you at the top to specify your hometown ... I guess we now know why. Along with places information in your profile, it's all a criminal needs...

Facebook's privacy options are rapidly becoming unacceptable. It's bad enough that the average user has more interest in being allowed to play games or see 'OMG look what Justin Beiber did...' than bother to think about what the 'allow this app to access your information' actually means. Seriously, what proportion of facebook users do you think have ever looked at the list of things it asks to access and thought through WHY it needs that information. So if a new facebook app or link asks for more than just 'basic information' then ask yourself Why? Answer: It probably doesn't.

A lot of the 'click here to see this video or what some person said' doesn't lead you to anything other than having another external - not controlled by facebook - application to post junk on your profile, or even you're friend's walls, and many won't even let you see the promised content. Seriously folks, if it exists, it'll be on youtube for free. Don't get sucked into it. Why can't isn't there a 'visibility to apps' checkbox against each privacy option within facebook as well as just friend visibility? Without that you might as well just make everything public and give up if you're going to accept any apps.

So if you're already accepted a bunch of these, now might be a good time to revisit your settings, especially if you're seeing 'ghost' posts on your wall that you didn't do. Go to Account > Privacy Settings > Edit your Settings (Under apps and settings) and see if there's anything there that you don't recognise. Some people might claim that google are 'The Evil Empire' but as far as I know they're only really using the data for their own purposes (i.e. advertising) and not handing it out for others to do evil with.

The thing that pushed me over the edge with facebook was a while back when I discovered that although there is foursquare integration and I could cross-post my foursquare checkins to facebook, it was COMPLETELY impossible to restrict who those posts are visible by. External application can ONLY post with default visibility - you can't control it on an app-specific basis. That's a decision from facebook. Foursquare were happy to discuss this, facebook weren't when I tried to contact them. Not that I'm surprised. This means that Places has that one 'killer feature' - ironically a privacy one by having visibility controls - over the system they're copying (in features and logo inspiration) - foursquare.

Bottom line. Facebook is free to use so ultimately it's up to them what they allow. But what would you do without it? They won't start charging, but if you're under the misguided impression anything you post on there is actually private then, frankly, you're an idiot. And for the conscientious people reading this who do give a damn about security, when you see one of your less careful friends use something that looks suspicious, go to the app, check it, use the 'report app' link if necessary.

I'll see you later on Diaspora (once they fix a couple of issues with aspect control and cross-posting privacy ...)


  1. I changed all my settings to CUSTOM.

    Takes multiple, long, slow, drawn out operations to change each setting. Choices are Friends, Friends of Friends, Me and Everyone.


    I then wanted to compare to the default settings so I selected default.

    Does Facebook save the custom? No.

    I think they make it as hard as possible.

    1) The internet is Public
    2) You give far more information away in other places
    3) I know this doesn't make it right.

    While marketers need personal information to monetize it will continue to be a problem

  2. Thanks Juanny! (Good to hear from you again ;-) )

    I too use a custom privacy setting, but the thing that REALLY annoys me is that none of the mobile interfaces I've seen let you post with anything other than the default. One reason I want to have a shot at writing my own, assuming the APIs even allow privacy customization ...