Facebook's New Features and Your Privacy: What You Need To Know

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The Takeaway

Artwork: Peter and Maria Hoey
Facebook's new plugins and instant personalization features offer a variety of ways for you to interact with your favorite Websites and Facebook friends. However, Facebook is not being as clear as it should be about how your information is shared and stored across third-party Websites when you sign in to those sites using your Facebook credentials. Facebook says doing away with the 24-hour time limit solved a technical issue for developers, and does not affect how your data can be used by third parties. That may be true, but at the same time, that's my data the Website is now storing indefinitely, and Facebook should have made it clear to users that it had changed this rule.

Facebook should also do a better job of making it obvious and easy for users to completely opt-out of Instant Personalization. A good way to do this would have been for Facebook to have an alert appear that told you about the new Instant Personalization feature, and then gave you the option to opt out of the new feature right from the alert window.

Instead, Facebook users are notified with a pop-up that sends you to this page. Then, at the bottom of that page, there's another link that takes you to your Facebook Privacy Settings where you can find the Instant Personalization opt-out check box. That's a total of three clicks just to get to the Instant Personalization check box, and Facebook never once explicitly told me that this new box was there, I had to find it on my own.

The other troubling fact is that Instant Personalization Websites can still access your public information through any of your Facebook friend's connections list unless you explicitly block every Website using Facebook's Instant Personalization features. This method of blocking Instant Personalization sites places an unfair burden on the user. Right now, it's easy to block just three sites using Instant Personalization, but what happens when Facebook expands this functionality to hundreds or thousands of partner sites?

Privacy Is About Control

It's true that privacy is not as locked down as it was ten or twenty years ago, because people want to use the Internet to share far more personal information than they ever could, or would, before.

But even though the notion of privacy is changing, I don't think it's unreasonable for you to expect to retain control over the information you share on Facebook. The social network has become better at giving you granular control over how our information is shared within Facebook.com, but now Facebook users may be losing more control as Facebook functionality spreads across the Web and their data gets shared with numerous third-parties.

Control As Much As You Can

With Facebook functionality growing across the Web, today would be a good time to examine your privacy settings and make sure you are comfortable with your level of privacy control. The best place to start is your Facebook account's Privacy Settings page , and then check out this page which lists all the information your friends can share about you through Websites and applications. But remember that no matter what you do certain aspects of your profile are always public including your name, profile picture, gender, current city, networks, friend list, and your fan pages.

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul ).

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