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Facebook not making friends with new privacy settings

By Paul O'Reilly

Last week, Facebook started rolling out its new privacy settings and was met with typically mixed reviews. While many people saw the overhaul as long overdue and a step in the right direction, others believe that the vast social networking site is actually making its members' data less secure.

As it has done several times in the past, Facebook reacted quickly to criticism and made additional changes to the privacy settings before the week was over. It also provided a number of useful videos, which explain most of the changes in detail and what users need to do to bring them into effect.

However, some complaints persisted. Chief among them was the way that Facebook was now classifying as "publicly available information" certain data that was previously regarded as private. Without Facebook saying so, this change is primarily to accommodate its recent arrangements with Google and Microsoft to index such information and make it available through the major search engines.

Despite the mini uproar that greeted this reclassification, users can easily opt out of the indexing by adjusting their privacy settings. As the video explains, just go to "Settings", select "Privacy" and click on "Search". Make sure the "Allow Indexing" box is unchecked and your Facebook information will never appear in searches made about you on Google and Bing.

A more serious issue, and one which has plagued Facebook for over two years, is how much user information is shared when a member, or a friend of a member, signs up for an app. In the past, Facebook let users click a box that said "Do not share any information about me through the Facebook API (Application Programming Interface)". But Facebook took away that option with this week's changes. Developers and other application managers are now able to capture user and user friend data without any obvious restrictions.

In general, the Facebook privacy overhaul is a good thing, and Facebook has taken the right approach by "forcing" all members to go through the settings adjustments when they next sign on. However, as Facebook's own blog indicates, that hasn't stopped critics from kicking up a storm.

With a membership of over 350 million, Facebook is finding out that's it's impossible to please all the people all the time. With so many eyes trained their way, the measure of success for an overhaul like this is not whether there are negative comments but whether they can keep the really vocal critics to just a few thousand!



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