announced this morning that its 350 million users will be prompted to make their status messages and shared content publicly visible to the world at large and search engines. It's a move we expected but the language used in the announcement is near Orwellian. The company says the move is all about helping users protect their privacy and connect with other people, but the new default option is to change from "old settings" to becoming visible to "everyone."Facebook
This is not what Facebook users signed up for. It's not about privacy at all, it's about increasing traffic and the visibility of activity on the site.
Update: See also our in-depth interview with Barry Schnitt, Director of Corporate Communications and Public Policy at Facebook, about why these changes were made.
Information like your email address is recommended to remain limited to friends, but make no mistake about it - Facebook wants you to make the status messages you post visible to the entire internet.
According to the video explaining the changes, the new default for status messages is "everyone." That's a huge change. Of course it's not hard for people to keep their existing privacy settings, but confusion around what those settings are is hardly resolved by the phrase "old settings" and a tool-tip phrase appearing when you hover over that option.
Update: Some users are saying that their default options are in fact on "old settings" and not "everyone." We're hearing that "old settings" as private is the default for users who have ever changed their privacy settings and set them to private. People who have not changed their settings ever or who have set them to public already, will be defaulted to public. That's what we think, it's hard to know for sure. Facebook is maddeningly unclear about what exactly is going on. Part of the problem is that they are willing to tell press that they want to move users toward being more public, but when communicating with its users they appear to put more emphasis on communicating about privacy than is warranted by the changes at issue.
Will users go for it? If Facebook becomes a lot more like Twitter, will users stick around? The network of friends you've created on Facebook can't be taken anywhere else - access to those people off-site is limited due to "privacy concerns."
A much more honest approach to privacy would be to encourage users to create lists of contacts and encourage them to select which list any update was visible to. Instead, that's greatly underemphasized.
Expect to see this story blow up for the rest of the year. It's a very big move.