Three Cool Tools for Restoring Your Facebook Privacy

Well, it seems all this complaining about Facebook’s laissez faire attitude toward its users’ privacy has finally gotten their attention. According to published reports, the company called an “all hands meeting” to discuss the controversy last week. And what has come of that meeting? Apparently a lot of soul searching, rending of garments, and gnashing of teeth, per a report in the Wall Street Journal. But otherwise, a whole lot of nothing.

So leave it to some clever entrepreneurs to do what Facebook has so far refused to do: Put back the privacy protections Facebook just took away. And they do it in an ingeniously simple way.

First up, there’s ReclaimPrivacy, which can scan your Facebook settings and let you know where you’re at risk. Simply visit the site and drag the free “Scan for Privacy” button up to your browser’s bookmarks toolbar. Log into Facebook, click the bookmark, and it instantly analyzes your privacy settings in a popup window, letting you know what’s “secure” and where you may be at risk.

Of course, Scan for Privacy leaves it up to you to decide how to change your settings. If you want to lock down your Facebook profile completely, there’s Untangle’s SaveFace. It installs in an identical fashion to ReclaimPrivacy – visit the SaveFace site and drag the icon to your toolbar. This time when you log in and click the bookmark, it changes all your settings to “friends only.”

Personally, I don’t want everything on my Facebook page to be “friends only,” so I went back and changed some settings (like for my blog posts) to be more public. But that’s far easier than having to manually tweak each setting, which is Facebook’s only solution.

Finally there’s Openbook. This isn’t a tool at all, it’s merely a site that lets you search through Facebook users’ public updates to show you just what kinds of embarrassing/incriminating things people post on a regular basis, mostly without even realizing it. Try searching on “rectal exam” or “lost my virginity” and you’ll see what I mean.

Will Facebook cripple these tools, as it has done to similar efforts in the past? I don’t think they’d dare, given the bad press they’re already getting. Then again, we’re talking about Mark Zuckerberg here, so anything is possible.

One small sliver of hope: On a radio talk show the other day, Facebook’s director of public policy (how many people do they have with this job title?) Tim Sparapani said the service it would be “simplifying” its privacy controls over the next few weeks.

As one of the commenters on this very blog noted recently, Internet Explorer has had both extremely granular privacy controls and simple one-click privacy settings (high, medium, low) for more than a decade. If Microsoft could do this back in 1997, why can’t Facebook do it right now? Are they really that lame?

Author Dan Tynan has never posted a nude photo on Facebook, but he’s not dead yet, so there’s still time. Catch his tasteless-yet-classy humor act at eSarcasm (“Geek Humor Gone Wild”) or follow him on Twitter: @Tynan_on_tech.

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