- 18 Mar 08, 22:45 GMT
Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg read our recent interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee or perhaps Facebook's founder realises that privacy will go on being the hot topic for internet users that it's become over the past twelve months.
Whatever the reason, Facebook has unveiled what it says is a new policy on privacy. The press release says the aim is to give users more control over the information they choose to share. It goes on to explain that the two main features are "a standardized privacy interface across the site and new privacy options."
Is that perfectly clear? Well, not entirely. What is a "standardized privacy interface" when it's at home? The 75% of users who never bother to change their default privacy settings probably won't care. But read on, and it seems the main change is the ability to differentiate between different groups of friends - and give them different levels of access to your information.
This is interesting because it tackles one of the issues that worried many older users of social networking sites when the phenomenon took off last year. Namely, do I really want to mix my different sets of friends - work, college, pub, family - in one great big melting pot? So you might share a joke with your managers at work - but do you really want them to see the photos of your stag night?
Now you can put them on a separate list - and, according to Facebook, they won't realise because your lists are known only to you. Which deals with that embarrassing situation where the boss asks you to be his friend and you don't quite know how to give him the brush-off. Now you just put him in a list all of his own.
Mind you, in my case I've found that mixing up a strange brew of old friends, new friends, colleagues and people I've never met, has its charms. I've been perfectly happy for them all to get exactly the same information - and quite careful not to place anything online that I would not want any single one of them to see. Dividing them back into separate social groups might - for me at least - diminish the appeal.
What is clear is that using Facebook and navigating its etiquette is becoming a lot more complicated. What started off as a nice clean whiteboard where you could leave simple messages for your friends has become a sophisticated and sometimes irritating game of social chess.
By the way, Facebook has also confirmed that it's launching a chat application. So now you'll also have to decide just which of your friends goes on your buddy list. Decisions, decisions.
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