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Back in December Facebook infuriated many of its users and a number of privacy organisations when it revealed changes to its existing privacy settings which encouraged users to make as much information as possible available to the entire web and even removed the ability to make your name, gender, city and friends list private. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has now taken this privacy argument a step further claiming prophet status as he apparently foresaw a new social norm where we apparently care less for our privacy and are not concerned by the world and its dog seeing our personal information.

    Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

    Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing

Firstly, I don’t know about you but I still care about my privacy and I am less than happy about sharing my personal information with the entire Internet. So his foreseen privacy-liberal world is not exactly the reality he is claiming, at least not just yet.

Zuckerberg states in his interview with TechCrunch “When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was ‘why would I want to put any information on the Internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?’

And then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way and all these different services that have people sharing all this information. People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.”

It’s quite a leap to go from people being more interested in ranting away on blogs to them being willing to share their name, location, photos and friends lists with a bunch of strangers. How does the increase in blogging justify the privacy setting changes or account for this supposedly privacy-free new world?

What is most interesting is the sudden turnaround that Facebook appears to have made. When it was first established initial users obtained confidence in the sharing of their personal details through highly promoted privacy policies and the fact that you could control who accessed your data. Just 5 or 6 years on and Zuckerberg has made an almighty u-turn, initially claiming the changes were a simplification of the existing privacy controls and stating that “freely shared data makes it easier for people to find and learn about you”.

And that is in essence the problem as ‘people’ does not simply include long lost friends or relatives, unfortunately it also includes advertisers, search engines, fraudsters and worse. The sceptics amongst us may argue that this is just a ploy by Facebook to increase traffic by getting more pages accessed by search engines and in turn earning more from advertising revenue. If that is true then it’s a harsh price that its users are paying. And remember once your personal info is available on the web it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get it removed.

The concern here is the lack of explanatory text and the use of ‘Everyone’ for recommended settings. The more tech savvy and privacy conscious users will simply ignore the new settings and revert to their old ‘private’ settings (at least while this is still an option) but those users who are less aware are likely to just to go with the suggested settings oblivious to the full implications of their decision which will inevitably result in their personal information being made available to the entire web, talk about security risk! And most worryingly of all, that is exactly what Facebook wants you to do.

Our advice is to check your privacy settings on all social networking sites as soon as possible to ensure you only share personal information with the people you trust, namely your family and close friends. Be very careful about making your private information public.

Have your say!

What do you think about Facebook’s privacy setting changes? Are you concerned by the potential security risk or do you agree with Zuckerman?  Let us know by leaving us a comment below.

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