Under Pressure, Facebook Signals About Face on Privacy Settings

Things never seem to stay the same in the world of Facebook.  Since December when the social network changed its default settingsFacebook Ads to share users’ profile information with anyone, unless a specific user opted out, Facebook has received a healthy amount of flak from privacy advocates and regular members eager to keep their profile info to themselves.  Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, then defiantly declared we were headed to “a web where the default is social” last month when he expanded his definition of “anyone” – now the network was not only opening up profiles to other users, they were beginning to open up profiles to third-party websites.

Quitters Far From Winning

Facebook’s privacy battle has only escalated.  The recent changes prompted a small but fierce group of insurgents to mobilize behind “Quit Facebook Day,” adopting the final day of the month of May as their D-Day, publishing on their site: “If you agree that Facebook doesn’t respect you, your personal data, or the future of the web, you may want to join us.”  As of this blog post, the QuitFacebookDay.com movement is just shy of 12,500 pledges to quit on the 31st.

Facebook, which was probably hoping to lay low for a little while, also grabbed the cover of Time Magazine, due to hit newsstands (coincidentally) on May 31 with an article on the privacy concerns of the social network, called it the “the Web’s sketchy Big Brother, sucking up our identities into a massive Borg brain to slice, dice and categorize for advertisers.”  For all the doomsday rhetoric, worries over the site have yet to materialize into any concern regarding the overall stability of the network; the Quit movement would need to increase its members by 400 times to equal 1% of the total Facebook userverse.

Shift in Privacy Policy on the Horizon

Facebook logoNaturally looking to avoid Time Magazine’s characterization, Facebook has signaled today that they are reconsidering their privacy settings.  From a series of crisis management meetings of senior staff for the social network, all agreed that the privacy settings were at best confusing and at worst exploitative.  It is unclear at this point whether these changes would include an unlikely abandonment of Zuckerberg’s “open graph” proposal he unveiled last month or will satisfy privacy advocates.  Facebook, nonetheless, stresses its desire to remain “user-friendly,” thus fueling speculation that the default setting may be switched back, meaning only those users who opt-in will be sharing their public information with the vast public of third-party websites.  This would likely satisfy their near 500 million person network, as we only want to have a choice in the matter.  All in all, the flak Facebook faces nor the U-turn Facebook management is about to pull will likely hurt the stability of the massive network.  Sometimes things change while remaining the same.

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