Facebook Defends Privacy Changes

Though some users have reacted harshly to Facebook's new privacy and security changes, Facebook says the changes will help keep users secure and make them more knowledgeable about how they share information.

Facebook is defending changes to its privacy and security controls despite criticisms from some users.

On Dec. 9, Facebook announced it was implementing a number of privacy-related changes, including the ability to control who sees what piece of content on a user's page, a Transition Tool and simplified privacy settings. However, some users lambasted the move for changing the default privacy settings so that users are automatically sharing data at the most open level possible.

"Although sold as a 'privacy' revamp, Facebook's new changes are obviously intended to get people to open up even more of their Facebook data to the public," Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in a post on the EFF Website. "The privacy 'transition tool' that guides users through the configuration will 'recommend'-preselect by default-the setting to share the content they post to Facebook, such as status messages and wall posts, with everyone on the Internet, even though the default privacy level that those users had accepted previously was limited to 'Your Networks and Friends' on Facebook."

But Facebook says the site is only making recommendations for privacy settings based on user behavior, and the settings can be changed with a simple click of the mouse.

"The mass of our users had never done anything at all," said Tim Sparapani, director of public policy at Facebook. "Hundreds of millions of people had never stopped and thought about the consequences of sharing information. So we thought that it was important enough, as people who care about user privacy, to walk them through that process."

As part of its privacy strategy, the social networking site added more granular controls on content to allow users to select a privacy setting for every post they make at the time they create it. The company also eliminated regional networks and created a Transition Tool with which users can review their privacy settings.

But some users are still concerned that Facebook has made missteps. Among them is allowing the Facebook applications of "friends" to have access to publicly available personal data.

"Facebook previously offered a solution to users who didn't want their info being shared with app developers over the Facebook Platform every time one of their friends added an app: Users could select a privacy option telling Facebook to 'not share any information about me through the Facebook API,'" Bankston wrote. "That option has disappeared, and now apps can get all of your 'publicly available information' whenever a friend of yours adds an app."

According to Sparapani, while this is true, "over 95 percent" of users had never hidden the publicly available information field anyway, "so that those fields were out there all the time, and it's really basic information-it's your name, your profile photo if you put one up there, the city that you reside in if you put that in your profile ... so it's really like essentially only demographic information that the application would get," he told eWEEK.

Facebook did make a change a change in response to user feedback, however-random members of other people's friend lists are no longer displayed when someone searches for them on the Website.

"We're always sensitive to what our users feel and think," Sparapani said. "I don't think anybody at Facebook thinks we've got it right 100 percent of the time."