Is There a Good Side to Facebook’s New Privacy Settings?

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Facebook’s new privacy polity roll out makes user profile data public by default, and that was more than many expected. Having been first announced back in July, the changes Facebook began rolling out last week make its content far more accessible than many would have conjectured based on Facebook’s history. Keeping things relatively private and layering even more privacy options atop those standards made Facebook one of the safer and user-centric social networks to dominate the scene.

Yet the changes Facebook is currently making to its profile set up appears to have another agenda. Making profile content public by default seems to go against many of the principles laid out by Facebook upon its inception. Logging into the website as of last Wednesday, users began to see a pop-up message inviting them to update their settings. The new privacy settings looked basic enough, and didn’t seem to be vastly different from what users already experienced with their existing profile. Scrolling over each new Facebook setting option, however, gave up the details of how that change would affect user’s data.

Tricky? A little. But easy enough to navigate when you get right down to it. Other changes Facebook users will notice are additional pop-up messages alerting them to new privacy options based on their sharing behavior within their Facebook account. Posting something on their wall now yields additional sharing options for determining the level of public accessibility their immediate and widespread network will have for their newly shared content.

I actually like the pop-ups. They highlight the attention Facebook has given towards the information it’s providing to existing users. Making them fully aware of the changing options means repeated reminders as they continue to share content with their social graph.

So why are so many privacy advocates and other social networking pundits speaking out against the new changes brought on by Facebook? They really do appear to go against things Facebook has stood for in previous years. But when you look at changes Facebook has made in the past, can we really be surprised?

Having started as a school-specific network, Facebook has opened up a great deal, now accepting anyone as a registered member. Facebook news feeds looked to be an intrusive way of sharing information, tough they turned out to be rather handy. Facebook Beacon looked like a backhanded way of appealing to advertisers while disregarding consumer interests, and an immediate return to the “old ways” gave Facebook an opportunity to step back and reconsider the way in which it would make user information available to other interest groups.

One of those interest groups is investor Microsoft, which has already begun to tap into Facebook’s large network for real time search results. Upon this feature integration, only publicly-shared status updates were used for Microsoft Bing’s search engine, but the newly implemented privacy settings changes means that Microsoft could get its hands on a great deal more data.

An additional deal with Google yielded less access to user information for its real time search results, but, again, the newly opened access to Facebook content could eventually tell a different story for the relationship between Facebook and Google.

The need to remain competitive with an industry of growing networks with ready access to status updates for the use of market research, consumer behavior data and real time search results means that Facebook had to open up its content further if it wanted to truly monetize its social networking efforts. As Facebook also provides a nice compilation of user profiles, which could be used directly for consumer relations, marketing and recommendations, the potential behind Facebook is ever-growing.

All Facebook needs to do is remember to keep its users first. Should Facebook ultimately decide to provide consumer profiles based on its user’s accessible data, they should ensure that these users have the bulk of the control over the remote and third party use of that data. As status updates and applications incur a great deal of personal information about each and every one of us, the potential for social networks to become a centralized profile for individuals to manage multiple accounts extends a mutually beneficial relationship–if the user agrees to it.

It’s important to remember that Facebook still has a wide array of privacy settings for individual users to select, and ensuring that its users are aware of this should remain a priority for Facebook. This is especially important moving forward as Facebook has to deal with any oncoming backlash for its privacy settings changes. Looking back through all the other ways in which Facbook gradually opened up its network, I can’t say that I’m among those that are surprised to see what Facebook has done in the past few months.

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