Privacy settings in Facebook

I had a mildly alarming experience with Facebook Notes this afternoon. I published a note and specified friends who would be able to view the note using Facebook’s very welcome and pretty granular privacy settings. I published the note and a couple hours later I saw that a couple people had commented on the note who I hadn’t included in the distribution/access list.

Facebook privacy.pngThe privacy settings on Facebook are very flexible. They allow users to choose whether to open a note up to everyone, friends of friends, just friends, specific friends (when you select those friends you even have an opportunity to create a new friend list on the fly) or to keep the note private. I took advantage of the option to restrict access to the note to specific friends mainly because I felt the content of the note should perhaps be limited to those of my friends who are closest to the news.

I certainly didn’t expect the note to be published publicly anyway to all my friends. While I didn’t exactly give away nuclear weapons secrets, this does serve as a reminder that not everything goes as well as it is intended to go on these platforms, especially platforms still being tested like the new Facebook platform.

In addition, don’t expect Facebook to take responsibility for any glitches in the system. Its privacy policy is pretty comprehensive and doesn’t leave much wiggle room. Ultimately it comes down to this one line:

You post User Content (as defined in the Facebook Terms of Use) on the Site at your own risk.

That being said, I am really glad to see the privacy options available to me when I publish content on Facebook. I also appreciate Facebook’s two core principles which are set out at the beginning of the privacy policy:

Facebook follows two core principles:

1. You should have control over your personal information.
Facebook helps you share information with your friends and people around you. You choose what information you put in your profile, including contact and personal information, pictures, interests and groups you join. And you control the users with whom you share that information through the privacy settings on the Privacy page.

2. You should have access to the information others want to share.
There is an increasing amount of information available out there, and you may want to know what relates to you, your friends, and people around you. We want to help you easily get that information.

These two principles address some of the criticisms levied against Facebook and mirrors some of the language in the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web which was published a year ago tomorrow (5 September) little while ago. They are welcome provisions in a privacy policy and ideals to strive for. They are also subject to the technical features of the platform they govern.

As with any platform on the Web which you store or publish your content on, you take a risk when you use the services. Outages occur (less frequently, thank goodness) and services can be hacked. Just bear these risks in mind and act accordingly.

Update: I just read a recent post Paul Walsh published about privacy on Facebook in the context of photos that is worth reading.

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