Social networking software

Facebook Gets a Privacy Nip and Tuck

Using a social network is like having lunch once a month with an old friend. It's not exciting, exactly, but it's pleasantly predictable. You know what to expect. Then one day she shows up with a nose job.

At first the difference is jarring, but after a while you forget what she used to look like and you mentally delete the old nose from your memories and substitute the new one.

So it goes with social networks. You get used to how you share information, what your friends' profiles look like, where to find those pictures and videos, etc. Then, seemingly overnight, the network changes how it displays status updates, or the buttons you click to indicate your likes and dislikes, or how it shares your personal information with the world. It's jarring, but most of the time you adapt to it, as if it's always been this way.

Then there's Facebook, the Michael Jackson of social networks. It's never satisfied. A nip here, a tuck there, some skin whitener, a glove, a monkey - there's always something different. And it's not always an improvement.

Facebook's latest augmentation - its "instant personalization" features that generously share your information with third-party Web sites without asking for permission, it's "Like" button that butters your consumer preferences across the Web - was like a really bad nose job. Think Jennifer Grey or Heidi Montag. That bad.

So now it's gone back to the surgeon for some emergency repairs. Yesterday, after a month's worth of drama, Zuckerberg et al announced Facebook's new "simplified" approach to privacy. And basically said, "Can you please get off our backs now?"

I'm sitting here trying to figure out what Facebook has really changed about its privacy controls. I can't actually try them out, since the changes haven't rolled out yet. (Once they do, I won't have anything to compare the new system against - it's not like your friend brings her old nose with her to lunch.)

Do the controls seem simpler? Yes. Are they the uber-easy one-click solution some folks have suggested ? Definitely not. Do they represent a major shift in how Facebook approaches your personal information? Not really.

From reading the descriptions, it seems the changes are mainly cosmetic. [Insert rimshot here.] A lot of them aren't changes at all, though you wouldn't know it from Zuckerberg's blog post yesterday or Facebook's new privacy information page.

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