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Facebook: A Place for Friends (and the Entire Web)

Facebook has begun implementing its new privacy policy changes, and there are a lot of people who aren’t too pleased about them.  Groups like EPIC, a public interest privacy group, are filing complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, stating that the “changes violate user expectations, diminish user privacy, and contradict Facebook’s own representations.” Some argue the new changes actually encourage users to share more information than they previously had.  Let’s examine…

The most controversial change, mentioned by Brad Stone of the New York Times, is that a Facebook user’s photo, gender, geographic region, list of friends and pages they’re a fan of are now open and available to the entire Web public.  That’s true, based on Facebook’s recommendations, but you can actually uncheck the “Show my sex in my profile” box and can leave your “Current City” blank (or lie about it, which is apparently what Facebook’s director of corporate communications suggests).  While Facebook’s Web site says “there have been misleading rumors recently about Facebook indexing all your information on Google,” people searching your name (or brand) on Google will now see a basic set of information.

Is a site with 260 billion page views per month finally succumbing to marketers’ and financiers’ demands, and pulling one over on its users to help monetize on its success?  The answer, in my opinion, is “kind of.”  While this move certainly makes it easier to gather information about users and helps Facebook get indexed on large search engines (which helps increase page views, which helps increase the value of the company, etc.), the privacy changes are straightforward and have been well documented.  Facebook announced that it would have a new model for privacy controls back in July, gave everyone on the network a notice, its founder sent an “open letter” to all of its users, created a Privacy Center and initiated a huge outreach campaign to regulators, privacy advocates and the press.  In other words, it was not done in secret.

Ultimately, most people don’t come to Facebook to hide – they come to “connect and share” – as the company’s tagline suggests.  If anyone thought Facebook would be the tool that made their relationships more private or personal, they were misguided from the start.  For the most part, Facebook is a place to update people about what’s going on, and post edited photos and carefully crafted messages you know others will read (not as catchy, but unfortunately true).  So, for those with personal profiles – don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your best friend, mom, current employer or future employer to view.  For managers of brands – pay attention to what information is public, make sure all content is well written, and know that your competitors are watching what you post.  For everyone – take a close look at your page’s privacy settings and control who can view your profile.

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