Facebook's recent privacy settings "adjustment," the social network is now reporting that 35% users who had never before engaged with their privacy settings took the initiative to do so instead of accepting the updated suggestions put before them by the social network. To Facebook, this number is a very, very good thing. Although nowhere near a majority of users, this engagement rate is much higher than industry averages. Plus, as Facebook's director of public policy Tim Sparapani points out, "35% of 350 million users is an extraordinary number."After
But should Facebook really be proud here? What about the other 65% of users who blindly accepted the defaults?
According to an article in Baynewser, Sparapani said that a typical engagement rate for users interacting with their settings is 5% to 10%. This information came out during a recent roundtable discussion organized by the Federal Trade Commission. The panel's focus was technology and privacy. However, Facebook wouldn't reveal what the number was prior to December's appearance of the "privacy changes" dialog box splashed across the tops of Facebook homepages. This dialog box, something Facebook called its "transition tool," was where the company explained the changes and asked its users to either accept the new recommended settings or make their own adjustments. It was the tool that thrust the once-private posts from millions of users into the light, making status updates public along with friend lists and Facebook page subscriptions. It was the tool that made Facebook function a lot more like rival Twitter, a social network for public sharing.
Flipping around the PR spin on this event, what we're learning through Sparapani's reveal is that the vast majority of Facebook users accepted the new defaults and then moved on with their life. However large Facebook's network may be, however many millions 35% represents, however bigger a figure that is than the industry average, most would agree that it's not a number worth bragging about... especially when most users have been duped into over-sharing content that they think is private.
Is 35% Worth Bragging About?
This raises the question, is Facebook truly proud of this change? Surely Facebook doesn't think that the other 65% actually wanted their status updates public by default? There are plenty of indications that's not the case. Outside of the numerous finger-wagging reports by tech industry pundits, analysts and commentators, these changes have come to the attention of the general public in ways that few other esoteric reports regarding social networking settings ever have before. For example, Internet users have been emailing around (warning, shameless plug ahead) this article detailing Facebook privacy settings so much that it landed on NYT's most emailed list for days on end as the number one story. (It's still there now, just further down).
Interestingly enough, it's worth noting that users aren't angry enough to actually abandon the social network - at least not in any significant numbers. They're just mad. That speaks greatly to how deeply entrenched Facebook has now become as a part of our everyday communication infrastructure. The company can essentially bait-and-switch its millions of users, promising a private place for online socialization, then turn around and open up its network to the Web at large, and they get away with it. Afterwards, the company gets to pat itself on the back that 35% of its users were smart enough to not fall for its tricks. Facebook, in our opinion this isn't something you should brag about. It's not a move worthy of praise.
Update! Facebook sent the following clarification regarding the 35%: "The 35% is actually 35% plus all the percent of others who had already adjusted and who, therefore, got their old settings."