Thoughts on Facebook Privacy Reform

by on May.28, 2010, under general

Two days ago, Facebook rolled out new privacy tools in a blog post by Mark Zuckerberg.

On balance, the privacy revamp represents a net benefit from where we were in the last few months. For example, Facebook has finally returned to users the ability to control basic information such as whether or not complete strangers can see your hometown.

Additionally, their new privacy dashboard (as illustrated below with a picture from the site):

Is a helpful way for people to begin to visualize what is available to whom if they select one of Facebook’s settings.

But – as is so often the question in policy problems, from health care reform to financial reform to Facebook – the question is not whether the reform is better than what we had, but actually “good enough” to be truly praiseworthy. By way of analogy, of course it’s better to throw a rope to a drowning man than to not throw one at all, but if he is 10 feet from your boat and the rope is two feet long, the effort may not be as laudable as it initially appears .

What more could Facebook have done? It could’ve made Instant Personalization Opt-In. It could’ve integrated some of the great tools like the Facebook Privacy Scanner or profile mirror. It could’ve shown people what they currently are sharing and tweak it from there on the Dashboard, as opposed to simply giving them four options to pick from (although the four options are good for simplicity’s sake). Finally, it could’ve announced these changes in a big box on everyone’s News Feed – or forced them to visit the new privacy page the next time they visited the site – rather than hiding it in plain sight on the Facebook blog, which almost none of its users read.

I’m not pointing these things out just to complain about Facebook – I’m pointing them out to demonstrate how much Facebook didn’t do in their privacy reform. That doesn’t mean I don’t approve of the changes they did make – I do. But to understand the full context of Facebook’s actions, one must understand what they did and didn’t do. And in that respect, it’s still the latter that is far more striking.

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