Business Software

Facebook Changes Privacy Settings Yet Again

Facebook has again changed how it describes its new privacy options, which began rolling out to the service's 350 million users just two days ago. The company has now changed a blog post describing how users can protect the contents of the Friends List from becoming public.

This is the third time Facebook has changed Friends List privacy options in as many days.

Here is the post as it now appears (the stricken text was in the original post and are now crossed through in the current version of the blog page, shown below):

"Unchecking 'Show my friends on my profile' will prevent your Friend List from appearing in your profile. when it is viewed by people who are logged in to Facebook. Keep in mind, however, that because Friend List is publicly available, it will be visible to people who are viewing your profile while not logged in."

The Friend List includes everyone a user has "friended" on the service, making it valuable for finding relationships between Facebook users. Useful for making contact with lost acquaintances and distant relatives, the Friend List may also contain business and customer relationships that employers or the users themselves might wish to protect.

Further, relationships that exist today could be embarrassing if revealed in the future, potentially limiting career opportunities based only upon a supposed association that existed only on Facebook.

Prior to the Wednesday changes, Friend Lists could be made private.

However, after the privacy changes began rolling out, PC World readers and others noticed that Friend Lists could no longer be protected. Then, a new privacy setting--described in the blog post--was added to protect the lists, though they were still considered "public" information by Facebook.

The blog post clarification appears to say Friend Lists can now be fully protected, but it would be help for Facebook to further clarify its position with a policy statement about Friend List privacy. This could give concerned users the assurances necessary for them to be comforable using the service.

My take: It is concerning that, having first discussed the privacy changes in July and then rolling them out on a test basis, that the December launch has not gone smoothly. It is heartening, however, that Facebook is willing to quickly change, and change again, to get things right with its users. Provided the company actually implements what it promises.

A Facebook senior privacy manager told me that as the service continues to expand that there will be more privacy changes as Facebook responds to new opportunities and concerns.

The company, he said, realizes that customers must feel--and understand--that Facebook protects their privacy in order to be comfortable posting personal information to the service.

"We're not going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs," he said.

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his Web site.

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