Users Bamboozled and Policies Eroded – Is Facebook still the valuable tool you thought it was?

Geek level: Very Low. Editorial observations and deep, introspective questions…

I just wanted to give props to some folks who are really getting the impact of the changes to  Facebook privacy policies and settings, and trying to get the message across in different ways.

Facebook privacy settings are getting so complicated, few people seem to know the implications. And as a result, most don’t bother changing them. For those of you who remember what it was like to try to program a VCR back in the 1980’s and 90’s, what goes around comes around. The comparison is scary, as tweeted by Robert Nunez and Tom Watson – “Facebook privacy settings are the new programming your VCR”

(See )

I heard about this observation while listening to This Week in Google (at, when Jeff Jarvis mentioned it. Leo Laporte then added, “It’s like we’re all on flashing 12:00’s”  (If you don’t remember, it’s sort of like having a digital clock that loses power and forgets what time it is.) For the old VCRs, you had to go in and reset the time, then you had to set the channels and times you want to record. It was so complicated, many people just left them with the flashing 12:00’s. I can relate to that, along with many others I’ve heard from, regarding Facebook’s increasingly convoluted privacy settings.

Facebook just seems to want people to give up on protecting their privacy. To paraphrase Jarvis, it seems strange that instead of leveraging the trust of its 400 million users, and taking the opportunity to establish itself as the “protectors” of our identities on the Net, Facebook is carelessly exploiting that trust to its fullest extent for short term profit. Too bad for them, and for all of us.

Also in that same episode of TWIG, Jeff Jarvis referred to the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s (EFF) timeline of Facebook privacy policies over the years. It’s interesting to see how convoluted it’s become since their first privacy statement in 2005, which read:

No personal information that you submit to Thefacebook will be available to any user of the Web Site who does not belong to at least one of the groups specified by you in your privacy settings.

(from )

Now, as of April 2010, the policy reads…

When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information about you. The term General Information includes your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections and any content shared using the Everyone privacy setting. … The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to “everyone.” … Because it takes two to connect, your privacy settings only control who can see the connection on your profile page. If you are uncomfortable with the connection being publicly available, you should consider removing (or not making) the connection.

So, did you know this? Or have you quit Facebook – for good, or in protest – due to these moves? Or will it take one more move toward the cliff?

Not surprisingly, I don’t use Facebook for anything very personal. The stuff I put there is all pretty boring, say my friends. But if you joined a long time ago and have a significant amount of personal information in Facebook, you might want to read today’s Facebook privacy policies and consider how likely it is that what you thought was protected (by the default settings at the time you joined) may inevitably become public at some point.

Today’s trending topics might as well be “Facebook privacy settings changed” and “Facebook privacy policies changed“. So, if you still feel that privacy represents a fundamental personal value, we’d all like to know, “What value does Facebook continue to bring you as a tool, and is it worth the cost?”