Rory Cellan-Jones

Privacy on Facebook

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 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.

Facebook websiteWhatever 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.


I think this is a fantastic announcement, and can't wait to be able to add my parents!

When I added my mobile phone number to my profile, I deleted three quarters of my friends, so being able to restrict that will be fantastic, and mean I am able to communicate with more people. Simple!

In response to what you say about how complex Facebook is becoming, it is as complex as you make it!

I initially tried to keep to the core applications, then succumbed to the temptation of Scrabulous (and the problems it has lead to for me personally), but recently, I have found myself adding applications, for instance, to accept an Egg from a friend, that after 4 antagonising days of watching in eager anticipation, hatched into a breakfast.

I accept that my messy-looking profile and news feed are down to the fact that in recent months I have accepted so many requests, but at the core, the Wall, Photos and Events are what make Facebook great and functional!

You won't be under any condition or requirement to set up friends lists, in the same way that you don't need to accept the egg-that-hatches-into-a-breakfast invitation!

I, for one, shall be separating what people from school see from what people from Scouts see from what my parents see!

Why are they starting a chat application?

I already run eight simultaneous instant messaging systems to communicate with the same people!

However, If something 'Google talk style' were to be available, with a web based interface, that would be very nice!

  • 2.
  • At 09:51 AM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Tony Roberts wrote:

I think this is a good move by Facebook and will now be more encouraged to take part, knowing that I will not have huge lists of friends of friends of friends that I have no idea who they are!

It sounds even better than Live Messenger or Yahoo in that you can create separate lists, as you say, very useful for keeping different pots, mixing can be dangerous; remember the story of the man who applied to join the police and was turned down because of what they saw on this Facebook profile!

  • 3.
  • At 04:38 PM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Matthew Burton wrote:

This is a good development it allows much more customisation. Previously the only option you had was full or limited, this meant everyone who I didn't want to see everything (family members, less good friends, vague acquantainces) was doomed to see my limited profile that was very very limited. Now I can decide which people I want to see each part of my me more control and privacy than ever.

  • 4.
  • At 08:51 PM on 19 Mar 2008,
  • Jen Clarke wrote:

I was a member of Facebook for a short time. I found the site intrusive with infantile annoying applets that anyone could write and put up untested or monitored and friends would send you these invites or 'presents' created by such things.
I found it more annoying than spam, deleting such things each time I logged in. My 12 year old would have much fun on such a site if I would let her use one.
I also think that it could be a place for people to target others and get very private information about them by just knowing their real full name and whatever else people decided to divulge on their page about themselves, making them susceptable to fraud by a third party. At least on MySpace one can be much more annonymous with a 'user' nickname and whatnot, but it is also marketed to younger people.
I'd like to see a more dynamic social site that is more dynamic to the user depending on their age, style, how they want to communicate, relative access to their page to the rest of the internet... I could go on... Jen

  • 5.
  • At 10:05 PM on 20 Mar 2008,
  • Chris wrote:

It is hidden away, but from Privacy/Applications/Edit Applications you can individually edit the privacy settings for each third party application like 'scrabulous' to be viewable by, or to exclude a friend list(s) of your choosing.

This means certain 'professional' groups/people don't have to see the silly applications we play with!!

Not that I did such things of course! I am, after all, a professional!

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