Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Facebook! Our privacy settings are a-changing ...

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the web news
About you has grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be open to the bone
If your privacy to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start securing it
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

(Apologies to the great Bob Dylan for inspiring me to rip off his lyrics!)

Facebook has finally announced a great innovation – which is that basically it will ensure that its privacy settings can be more readily understood by its users. Move over Albert Einstein, no need for your help now that they’re designed to be understood by the likes of Homer Simpson.

Come to think of it that would make a good episode of “The Simpsons”. You can hear the pitch to the story team now: "Homer tries to change his privacy settings, but gets confused and manages to link up with some international superstars, each of whom have to perform crazy chores for Facebook Czar Mark Zuckerberg before they are permitted to drop their links with Homer."

Anyway, the critical thing is that a new system will offer users one privacy page with a list of all their applications and a choice of three settings for each. This means that users will be able to see all their information in one grid and apply privacy settings to each. Facebook will suggest defaults.

The redesigned privacy page allows users to see all their information in one grid and apply privacy settings to each. Facebook will suggest defaults, but the standard choice will be whether users want to share information and applications with just friends, friends of friends or everyone.

Naturally, those with brains as complex as Albert Einstein’s will still be able to access the existing bewildering array of hundreds of choices.

This bold move will pose a significant challenge to other webmasters. If Facebook manage to make life sufficiently easy (and transparent) for users, then when is everyone else going to follow on. And particularly, when will everyone else be giving users the same degrees of ease of choice? I’m sure the regulators are sitting up and taking notice, and wondering how this will affect the line they wish to take when advising data controllers on the privacy notices they need to have in place to explain all about cookies, and how to prevent them.

But having said that, the challenge will be equally as great on the privacy regulators, who will face similar problems when explaining to people who browse on their own websites what their cookie options are. And when the regulators get their own messages right, then I’m sure that the rest of us will sit up and take note.

I wonder how many privacy regulators are currently using Google Analytics and other beacons and cookies to track their users’ behaviour? And while this is (of course) entirely honourable and legitimate, I wonder whether any additional steps will be taken to advise users how to exclude themselves from such tracking tools.

Let’s wait and see!

... And repeat to fade:

Supporters of Zukerberg
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who's browser has stalled
There's a battle on the net
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your firewalls
For the settings - they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your default settings are
Rapidly agin'
Please get off of the internet
If you’re not in my band
Mind my privacy - the times are changin'.