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Facebook force feeds new privacy settings: How many folks will really personalize them?

Facebook is launching its new privacy settings and plans to force its 350 million users to at least look at and potentially customize them. How many will folks will actually make good use of these tools in the long run?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

Facebook is launching its new privacy settings and plans to force its 350 million users to at least look at and potentially customize them. How many folks will actually make good use of these tools in the long run?

In a nutshell, Facebook's new privacy model (statement), which was announced recently and in July, do the following:

  • Allow you to set privacy settings by the post.
  • Customize the audience that gets to see updates (everyone on the Internet, friends of friends, only friends and customized).
  • Update the privacy setting page to be more user friendly.
  • The removal of regional networks.
  • Create a transition tool that explains various settings.

On a conference call and demo, Elliot Schrage, Vice President of Communications, Public Policy and Marketing for Facebook, said the privacy updates mean the information sharing will be contextual based on the time content is created. That's a tall order given that Facebook users share 3.5 billion pieces of content each week. Information on minors will also be restricted to the rest of the world.

Also: Supernova: Can Social Media be the "savior" of privacy?

The entire Facebook call had a CYA (cover your arse) feel to it, but the changes seem like a nice move. However, these moves will give Facebook some nice cover in case regulators in the U.S. and Europe come down hard on privacy in a future date.

Schrage added that Facebook "realizes changing privacy controls is difficult." That's why Facebook is beating its users over the head and prompting them to change their privacy settings at every turn. Facebook has also telegraphed the planned moves.

When you log into Facebook you'll get this later today:

And if you skip that privacy step and come back in 24 hours you'll get the same message without the option to skip.

In other words, you're forced to pay attention to privacy. Facebook will recommend privacy settings based on your previous actions and preferences.

"At every minute of every day Facebook will be giving users more control and choice over every piece of content," added Schrage.

The rub: Facebook users barely paid attention to privacy settings in the first place. How many of us will think through the privacy settings? Facebook can lead users to privacy tools, but it's unclear how many will really pay attention.

Once you check out your settings, Facebook will rely on you clicking that little lock icon to control privacy by each piece of content.

When you post something it'll look like this:

Facebook's approach will be an interesting experiment. Some users will change their settings, but in a few weeks it's quite possible most of us will forget them. As for the privacy by post approach it's quite possible we'll overlook that little lock icon too. The good news: At least the options are available.

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