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Facebook Unveils Simplified Privacy Settings, Pursues Expansion With Sharegrove Buy

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CEO Mark Zuckerberg told the world on Monday that Facebook's "drastically simplified" privacy settings would roll out in the weeks to come and here they are. Zuckerberg presented them at a press conference, just two days after his op-ed in the Washington Post and some of the changes are already in place.

"Today we're starting to roll out some changes that will make all of these controls a lot simpler. We've focused on three things: a single control for your content, more powerful controls for your basic information and an easy control to turn off all applications," he said on the official company blog.

A new privacy page is already available and explains the changes.

Facebook privacy controls.JPG

New But Not So New... After All

  • One batch of information will now fall under the "basic directory" content, meaning your name, profile picture, gender, and networks will be public and you have no control over that. This is not totally new if you've taken the time to look at your profile before. The news here is that Facebook decides to make it officially public for once and for all. More transparency in their communication - we "like" that.

  • Other profile information will be set as public by default but users will be able to change that with the "view settings" link.

  • On your "Info" tab, you will be able to choose how you share your content. The choices will be "everyone", "friends of friends", "friends only" and "recommended" settings by Facebook which will leave some of your information open and some private. That "recommended" setting is new but the previous others have always been there. It's not clear though how Facebook w*ill choose what to reveal and what to keep privy.

Real Improvements And Big Changes
Once you go past the teasers above, you go into the real thing - as far as I'm concerned. "Granular control," as Zuckerberg put it, will be available to those who wish to pick and choose their visibility item by item (except the basic directory content). This will be possible through the "customize settings" option.

"Applications" will become "applications and websites" and beyond its so far obvious application enabling (or disabling) capacity, it will now allow to "turn off" the platform. This is a huge change, a big turnaround from the f8 developers conference Open Graph API announcement. It was that same announcement that ignited suspicion. Turning off the platform means you won't be able to access applications on Facebook and conversely, I suppose, other applications (Twitter or HootSuite for example) won't be able to access either.

The icing on the cake is that Facebook said it will not share your data - but for the basic directory - with any applications, should you opt for that platform turn off.

Want more?
It will also be possible now to turn off "instant personalization", the feature that had sparked anger and started to drive people out of the platform as it was reportedly difficult to opt out of it. What instant personalization meant was that Facebook would share some of your data with third-party sites so that, according to your online behaviour, the websites could customize their pages to adapt to your habits.

Another major change that seems to have gone unnoticed in most reports is Zuckerberg's explanation that regional groups would be gradually phased out as their sizes no longer allowed proper individual control of privacy.

So Is It Good News?
Reacting to the announcement, IT security and data protection firm Sophos said "the community must remain vigilant and maintain a critical eye on any change that is made, to ensure that improvements continue and that gains are not lost."

In a statement, Sophos insisted that simplification is crucial but "not selecting secure and private defaults is equal to no meaningful privacy change."

"...It must be made clear that Facebook's privacy policies remain unchanged. As such, with the information of nearly 500 million users and a track record of "share first, ask permission later," these moves must be analyzed critically," it further commented.

Oh Please...
Zuckerberg's post included the following paragraph that personally left me puzzled:
"On a personal note, I just turned 26 years old a few days ago. I started Facebook when I was 19 and it's amazing to look back at how it has evolved. There have been a lot of changes over the years as we've continued to innovate, and I appreciate that you have all stuck with us. Each time we make a change we try to learn from past lessons, and each time we make new mistakes too. We are far from perfect, but we always try our hardest to build the best service for you and for the world. So I just want to say thanks."

And Facebook Indeed Continues To Grow
Yes, while all eyes are on the privacy issues, the company keeps on growing: it has acquired ShareGrove, a private content-sharing startup providing users with the possibility to chat with private groups. It's like a conference call but with the capacity of sharing photos, videos, links etc to the group of participants. I guess you can call it a web bridgeline.

Here's ShareGrove's announcement on its Facebook page.
facebook sharegrove.JPG

No financial details were available but it would make sense if the service was synched with Facebook Connect for easier identification of participants within friends or with Facebook chat, for that matter.

On its website, ShareGrove announced the take over and the company's plan to shut down on June 1. Subscriptions are already closed as of today.


With all these announcements, where does your Facebook trust level stand now ?


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