The Evolution of Facebook Privacy

How deep has the Facebook phenomenon penetrated into your life? Are you worried about the wilting crops in Farmville or starving fishes in Aquaville? Oh wait!

Do I see Facebook open in the other tab in your browser? So now you have told Facebook so much about yourself, do you wonder how all this information is stored and with whom is it shared? It is interesting to know that Facebook has come a long way in privacy and like its engagement architecture, even the privacy features of Facebook have evolved over time.

The Good Old Days !!
Now it is time to dig deep into Facebook and see what we get! Facebook was founded in 2004 and when you go to that era to search about privacy, you will stumble upon links where it is being argued that the data you share is not available to Facebook alone but to other ‘trusted partners, it sure is going to ring a bell for you’. But what you see is that privacy concerns started with the Newsfeed itself, which we today take for granted.

The newsfeed and mini-feeds faced a lot of resistance from users . There was also a group “Students against Facebook newsfeed” which was protesting the same openly on Facebook and the number of peoples joining it showed the huge discontentment among users. The popularity of the newsfeed was falling int o a deep pit as users were cribbing about it all the time. It seems the now seemingly innocent newsfeed had stirred quiet a buzz with it’s induction to the site.

Now then came other major improvements like targeted advertising by Facebook. Facebook escalated its use of personal data to target advertisements to individual users, despite mounting privacy concerns surrounding social networking sites, Facebook was boldly looking for revenues and users felt the chils of their data being shared. Though the idea was great, you would be getting advertisements on the topics you liked and which are actually useful.

This was followed by the decision of making the Facebook profiles searchable by Google, now people wouldn’t like that to be the default options, and as it should have, it raised a storm and as usual Facebook shrugged off these concerns, or indirectly they said Facebook’s 40 million users should not worry that personal details will be available to anyone searching the net.

Privacy, The Scary Phase !!

In 2008 bombshells of lawsuites were dropped on Facebook, a canadian privacy firm found 22 breaches of privacy in Facebook. Everybody started anticipating another privacy scandal by Facebook or finding loopholes as to how these matters were of serious concern. Moreover, it was realized that the applications had access to information which they might not even require, and this was a whooping 91% of the data accessible to them, which meant that the applications needed just 9% of the data. Concerns were legitimate. But as a response, all Facebook did was to send a small press release about information control for user, providing them better control on their content . Now this showed how insecure the information was getting. Applications to which you had not given permission also seemed to get hold of your personal data. This was getting more difficult for Facebook.

The year 2009 started with strong criticism of the terms of service, since it looked as if Facebook was saying, “We can do anything we want with your content. Forever.” This surely was not acceptable. Look at this clear dissection of the terms of use and you will learn why everyone was shocked. Electronic Frontier Foundation published The good, the bad and the ugly facets of the Facebook privacy at that moment.

- The Good: Simpler Privacy Settings and Per-Post Privacy Options

- The Bad: EFF Doesn’t Recommend Facebook’s “Recommended” Privacy Settings

- The Ugly: Information That You Used to Control Is Now Treated as “Publicly Available,” and You Can’t Opt Out of The “Sharing” of Your Information with Facebook Apps

- Facebook was receiving all the serious frowns of it’s users, now it was more aware users who wanted their privacy maintained.

The Awakening !!

The year is 2010, there was a loud uproar over all the changes taking place. You can see an excellent graphical representation of how Facebook changed the *automatic/default* privacy settings over time.

What’s worse is that the apps with whom you had shared information seemed to share it with other companies. In the same article you see how Facebook was seriously limiting the personal data available to the apps. Isn’t it too little too late? And poeple now realised how their information was being shared. EFF again released a set of data which was an eye-opener for the masses. You can clearly see how the circa of yourprivate information was increasing.

The main concerns were that even if you set your information to private, it would not be very difficult to access it, remaining ignorant was certainly no longer an option. Your information, a huge chunk of it, could be easily accessible in public web.

Now the Facebook privacy concerns were growing and as you can see, it made Mark remove his hoodie, as he was sweating the questions posed about privacy.

Everyone knew that the privacy concerns need to be addressed and there was no more scope to just shrug off privacy concerns. So the year 2011 was supposed to be the years of reforms. As a Facebook user I myself started seeing random changes.

There was this mysterious ticker appearing now and then, seems I was not alone. This surely invited the fury of many users. You can browse the forums and listen to the hues and cries of the users. Then Facebook decided it’s time for a change in privacy settings, which people suspect is an outcome of competition from Google+, well it seems everyone was supposing the same, even eweek thought the same.
Now you could decide who all see your posts, also the tagging policies changed and you could add your location with more comfort. To get a complete preview of the latest privacy settings you can look atthis official blog post about it. The latest addition to the bandwagon of privacy and sharing has been the subscription button, that makes another Facebook blog. Now you need not be friends with a person to see the things they share publicly. Also now you could customize what degree of updates you want to get from each friend.

Facebook now is slowly rolling out the latest newsfeed format, which has little to do with privacy, but the ticker is sure a concern. You see what your friends are doing online, even if the other person is not in your friend list.image 2

In the top right you can see the ticker, telling us what my friends are doing, it’s the ‘UNFILTERED’ newsfeed, I am sure you must have got an idea of it by now. Below that is the suggestion of the people I might like to subscribe to. This is what Facebook looks like in September 2011.

Finally !!

If you have gone through the above mentioned points you already have been wondering about the way the privacy issues are growing and the ways Facebook is adopting measures to address the concerns. Facebook has already been in news for all the lawsuits it has faced, as I have mentioned above.

The social competition is heating up. Google+ won hearts with its simple and fast UI and more transparent privacy settings and Facebook had to act fast. The latest changes make people wonder if Facebook is moving more towards the twitter way of sharing information. Though Facebook has addressed the concerns to some extent, the constant changes may leave the average Facebook user confused. The latest tagging facility does help us decide if we want to be tagged or not but makes tagging a more tedious job.

Facebook has the advantage of a huge user base which it’s competitors do not enjoy at the moment. Facebook now needs to be on its toes to be able to retain it’s users. It has surely come a long way from the privacy settings that “The Facebook” had, but these may not be enough. With the rolling out of unfiltered newsfeed (which has horified many users) and other features Facebook needs to take into account the privacy concerns. Facebook seems to reset the privacy settings of the users when rolling out changes in the privacy options which leads to the dismay of many users.

The user today is more informed and more alert than ever. Facebook cannot shrug off concerns as it once did and this is the era of a more mature audience and users Facebook is going to experience. Happy Facebooking !! (Hoping) Your privacy not be violated!!

[This guest post is written by Aram Bhusal. Aram works at Kuliza. You can read more of his posts at the Kuliza blog]