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Facebook Privacy Setting Changes Are Completely Meaningless

by Sean P. Aune | May 28, 2010May 28, 2010 1:42 pm PDT

After weeks of turmoil, Facebook finally gave in to pressure from not only its users, but also a few governments, and “simplified” its privacy settings to make it easier for people to opt-out of all the sharing the site forced upon people with its recent changes.

Too bad those changes don’t make a lick of difference.

Back on May 20th we gave you a step-by-step guide to getting yourself out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization program.  This is the new system that allows you to see what your friends have read, shared and done on a site as soon as you visit that site.  It was controversial because Facebook users were automatically thrown into the new system, and you had to take multiple steps to get yourself out of.  After a whole lot of meetings at the company, they announced on May 26th that they were “simplifying” the system, but the problem is that it still takes multiple steps to get out of it.

peeping tomThere was one insanely easy way to fix this entire debacle, one that would have satisfied every user and critic: Change the entire system to be opt-in instead of opt-out.  I know, what a radical idea I have there … it’s like I’m a 1960’s hippie or something.  The problem is that making the system opt-in will not benefit Facebook, only the users, and that is exactly why the king of the social networks will never go that route.

In case you aren’t familiar with the terminology, opt-out means that you are automatically enrolled in the system and you must take an active part to stop participating.  Opt-in means that a feature exists, and you must take an active part to start participating.  The thing is that Facebook knows people are lazy by nature, and only a small percentage of people will ever do anything that require action on their behalf.  Why do you think there are still “mail-in rebates” in the 21st century?  Because companies know that a large percentage of people will get lazy at some point during the process and never end up cashing their checks if they even get to the point of receiving one.

What Facebook wants is your data.  The more data the company the collects, the more information it can sell or lease to third-parties.  In an opt-out situation, the company knows that the vast majority of people will never pay attention to what is going on, will forget to go and turn off the settings or they’ll get frustrated and say “oh well”, leaving the information turned on.  Only a very small percentage of people will ever go through the process.  The scenario is exactly the same for an opt-in, except in that case Facebook only gets a small portion of data as opposed to losing a small percentage of the data.  Say only ten percent of people ever bother with this stuff, in an opt-out situation Facebook gets the data of 450 million people and loses 50 million … reverse that number for opt-in and you can see why they won’t do it.

While people have been saying that these new settings were a step in the right direction, even the Canadian Privacy Commissioner’s office is saying that Facebook didn’t go far enough.  This is something the site is going to fight us tooth-and-nail on; they want that data, it’s their quickest path to making money, and they will hold on to it for dear life.  So, once those new settings show up, or even using the old ones, do it, go and turn every last thing off, take back control of your information.

Or, you know, you could just get off the Internet, and barring that, just be more selective in what you put up there to begin with.  Of course we all know that’s just crazy talk.

What say you?  Are you happy with Facebook’s new privacy settings?


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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