Facebook's Privacy Controls too Complicated? This Video Might Help

I don't think Facebook is evil or trying to find ways to misuse personal data, but I do think it has created a privacy regime that's simply too complicated for many people to understand.
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At an April 21 developer event, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new program called "instant personalization" with partner sites to bring personalization to other sites throughout the web.

With instant personalization, Facebook users who log into websites like Yelp can click "like" next to a company or service and have that information shared with their Facebook friends from both within Yelp and within Facebook. It also allows partner sites to access information from your Facebook profile, but only information that you already share with the general public. Currently, Facebook is testing this as a pilot program with Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft.Docs.

Developers cheer, users grumble

Zuckerberg also announced a change in Facebook's privacy policy, allowing application developers to keep user data stored by Facebook indefinitely instead of reloading the data every 24 hours. The audience, made up mostly of application developers, cheered because the change made it easier for developers to maintain access to information they need.

But some users had a different response. A growing number of vocal Facebook users have expressed concern that both the instant personalization and the permanent storage of information by app developers are proof that the company is further encroaching on its users' privacy. Personally, I would have been more comfortable if the new features were opt-in rather than opt-out. But before you get worked up over them, consider that you don't have to click "like" on Yelp or any other site. If you don't click that, you don't share your preferences.

Think of clicking "like" as making a public statement. If I click that I "like" Fuki Sushi in Palo Alto (which I do), it's telling other Yelp users that I, Larry Magid, like that restaurant. It would be as if I stood up in the restaurant and announced to all in earshot that I like it. There would be nothing to stop someone in the restaurant from sharing that information with others, even people who weren't present at the time.

How to opt-out of Instant Personalization

Opting out of Instant Personalization program (click on image to enlarge)

But if you are really unconformable with the idea, you can also opt-out of the program by visiting the Facebook Privacy Settings Page, clicking Applications and Websites and clicking Edit Settings next to "Instant Personalization Program." At the bottom of that page you can uncheck the box that says "Allow select partners to instantly personalize their features with my public information when I first arrive on their websites."

More options for controlling applications

While you're on the Applications and Websites privacy page, look at your other options. In addition to opting out of Instant Personalization, you can edit Block applications, Ignore Application Invites and control activity on Application and Games Dashboards and

Application developer access to your data

As far as application developer access to information is concerned, the only change in the privacy policy is that developers now have permanent access to users' data. Of course there is always the possibility of abuse. But the only data they are getting is data you made public in the first place. Facebook says that it has a team of people in place to review developer privacy procedures and that they can suspend or remove an application if the developer violates privacy polices.

Too complicated

If all this sounds too complicated, that's because it is, and that is my biggest complaint about Facebook. I don't think they're evil or trying to find ways to misuse personal data, but I do think they've created a privacy regime that's simply too complicated for many people to understand.

Update: AllFaceBook.com is reporting that Facebook has scheduled an "all-hands" meeting at 4:00 PM today (Thurs) to discuss the company's privacy policies.

Disclosure: I help operate ConnectSafely.org, a non-profit Internet safety organizatin, that receives funding from Facebook.

Video explains Facebook privacy settings

Here's March 2010 video on how to configure your Facebook privacy settings. It runs about 5 1/2 minutes. It was created in March, 2010 so it doesn't discuss Instant Personalization which is covered in elsewhere in this post.:

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