How Will New Facebook Policies Affect Users?

How will new Facebook policies affect users?

Facebook is getting ready to overhaul its users privacy options in an effort to provide transparency and to “simplify the way in which [Facebook] offers privacy to its users.” There are a few other tweaks, but the biggest change for Facebook is in user’s privacy features.

Though Faceook is preparing to alter the landscape of the site (by allowing content published on Facebook to be archived like other info on the web and therefore searchable), they say this new set of policy changes has nothing to do with the massive change planned for later. The problem, according to Facebook, is the way that privacy controls are handled right now. As a user of Facebook I can verify this — information and privacy settings are set in a labyrinth of sorts, and most computer users aren’t concerned enough about their privacy to really take control of it. There are so many “privacy settings” pages that I’m often confused as to just how deep in the privacy settings I am.

Facebook says this level of complexity among privacy settings keeps most of their members from using basic protections that could save them from identity theft, fraud, theft of passwords, or other crimes. In fact, Facebook’s privacy settings are one of their bright spots — sites like Myspace are losing members, often directly to Facebook, over privacy concerns among other things. In other words, privacy should be one of Facebook’s selling points.

What does this change mean for Facebook users? Its simple — Facebook will consolidate all of their privacy settings options into one settings page, and “make the options more uniform”. What this means is that you will have five “privacy access levels” — Everyone, which for sharing information that you want with everyone (including people not on Facebook), Friends and Networks, which compiles all of the people from your “friends and networks” lists as well as the people on the same work or school network, Friends of Friends, which is a network of people your friends know but who may not know you, Friends only, and a setting called “Custom”, which allows the Facbeook user to select by hand the people to share certain info with. Reminds me of my buddy lists back in the AOL days.

Facebook is by far the most popular social networking site — a huge group of websites dedicated to keeping people in touch. With names like Twitter, Myspace, and Flickr, social networking sites are the biggest news story to come out of the internet since the Paris Hilton sex tape. It seems that most of the news media have just discovered social networking. CNN even makes heavy use of Twitter and Facebook during their news reports, in case you wanted to know what an anonymous source somewhere in the world thinks about what CNN is saying. Social networking is being given credit for supporting Iranians during their current quasi revolution. How does Facebook maintain superiority in such a crowded room?

Many of their customers would say the reason Facebook is the best is that Facebook is the safest. You could ostensibly operate a Facebook account and remain completely private — I’m not sure why you’d want to join a social networking site if you don’t want to “network”, but the point is that this is possible. You can block users you don’t want to find you, you can keep specific people from looking at certain pictures of you, and best of all — the info on Facebook doesn’t pop on any computer with access to Google. Pretty soon, Facebook will be changing that.

Back to the quesiton at hand — what will the privacy setting changes really mean? Facebook will keep allowing members to do things like set specific privacy settings for certain sections of their profile or info boxes, as well as for individual pieces of content — like photos, status updates, video clips, notes , etc. The option to share with “Everyone” just means “Everyone on Facebook”, but be on the lookout, as this is the first step toward Facebook’s posting its content web wide.

According to insider at the massive social site, Facebook has not yet made an official announcement of this change because they haven’t officially decided how deep search engines like Google or Bing will be able to dig. Should they allow all content aimed at “Everyone” to pass around on the net, or would that take the fun and privilege out of being a Faceook member?

Why is Facebook making this change? The popularity boom over at Twitter continues, and Facebook has always been on the lookout for a policy that would give its members even more options for sharing their content. After all, that’s what Twitter is all about.

Just last week, Facebook introduced a test for a new version of the Facebook Publisher — one of the touchstones of the site that members use quite often to post notes, links, videos, music, and other notes and content on each other’s “walls” to share. This is basically the core of what Facebook is about — sharing information. The new version of Publisher, which you most likely haven’t seen as its in extremely limited beta, lets Facebook members select a different privacy setting of each individual post they make, rather than selecting one privacy settng for all. The new Publisher also includes (wait for it . . . wait for it . . .) the option for Facebook users to share their posts and content with the ubiquitous “Everyone” — and this “Everyone” means everyone on the Internet, whether they are a member of Facebook or not.

Even if you’re a heavy Facebook user you may have missed other small changes, or run into them without noticing. This past March, Facebook began to allow users to share whatever parts of their profile or info page they wish with anyone on Facebook. This may not sound revolutionary, but it seems to go against the privacy heavy Facebook type. Most people on Facebook don’t want their info hanging out for anyone to see — previous to March, users could only share this info with a set of specific “friends”, or members of the same school or job networks.

Other small changes include the removal of geographical “groups” that are too large and useless — “American” for instance, rather than “East Texan” or what have you. These changes to Facebook will be up and running in just the next few days. During this transition process, Facebook will offer their members something called “transition tools,” which are pages that explain the new changes and offer suggestions about how users may want to set up their accounts.