Home 8 Steps to Facebook Photo Privacy, According to Facebook Engineer (We’re Still Confused)

8 Steps to Facebook Photo Privacy, According to Facebook Engineer (We’re Still Confused)

Let’s get this out of the way first: yes, we found this on Quora, the Q&A service poised for media overhype as the second coming of Twitter or blogging or journalism or whatever. But it was an interesting nugget of information from someone in the know and seemed worthy of sharing.

According to Justin Mitchell, an engineer on Facebook Photos, photo privacy on the social network is complex. “Really complex,” he says. “Probably 10 people in the world intimately understand the privacy calculations involved when you attempt to view a photo on Facebook. That said, this information should be generally available, and the principles behind it explained.” He then did just that, in 8 “easy” steps.

Is A Facebook Photo Visible?

The list below, said Mitchell, is a checklist where the first item for which the condition is met will determine the visibility of a photo posted to Facebook (profiles only, though, not Pages).

This is what he wrote:

  1. Is it your photo? You can always see your own photos.
  2. Are you tagged in the photo? If so, the photo is always visible. It does not matter if the photo owner has you blocked, or anything else, the photo will always be visible to you. This is necessary, since anyone tagged in a photo has a right to untag themselves.
  3. Was the photo posted to your profile’s wall? If so, the photo is always visible. This is necessary, since anyone should have the right to remove content from their own profile.
  4. Has the photo owner blocked you? If so, you may not see the photo.
  5. Does the owner of the photo allow friends-of-friends to see people tagged in their photos? If so, and if you are friends with anyone tagged in the photo, then the photo is visible.
  6. If the photo belongs to a “special album”, for instance a wall album or profile picture album, then obey those privacy settings.
  7. If the photo has photo-specific privacy, for instance wall or mobile photos, obey that privacy.
  8. Obey the photo album privacy.

There is already some debate on the thread about whether or not this list is 100% accurate, but since it’s coming from someone at Facebook who would know, we believe it is.

Online Privacy Too Complex, Please Give Up

What this list demonstrates, however, is the tricky, complicated structure of Facebook Privacy settings – an issue that ended up under the spotlight earlier this year f?or being overly complex , prompting Facebook to redesign the interface for simplicity. (It still is not that).

Can the average end user read that checklist and really understand the nature of their photos’ privacy? We would bet many will find it confusing. And even more wouldn’t even care to try.

What are YOU Hiding?

Maybe it’s time for everyone to give up on online privacy, anyway. I mean, who wants to share thoughts with only a few select friends, as Facebook was originally designed to allow? Isn’t making everything you think, say or do available to the wider world best? Why should different groups of people know you in different ways? What are you trying to hide, pray tell? Your private, personal life? Your actual identity?


OK, I’m being a bit sarcastic here. But I’ll admit, I’m more than a little suspicious of anyone who goes completely anonymous on the Internet today – especially those that run around in tech circles spouting off expert opinions hidden behind thinly veiled agendas to either affect stock prices, aid their employer, hide from their employer or even just post adoring praise about a newly launched startup. (Hello, hired PR flack!)

Increasingly, going online at all means giving up your privacy, your personal information and your anonymity.  (See The Wall St. Journal’s “What They Know” series, for example, or the new lawsuit against Apple claiming its mobile apps sharing personal data.)

It’s the beginning of the end, folks.

As for Facebook, it spent several months during 2010 under fire when it decided to default all its users’ posted content to “public” including things like status updates, photos posted, links and videos, etc. because, you know, everyone wants everything to be public and the world would be a better place if that was the case. Well, that’s Mark Zuckberberg’s agenda at least. Eventually, some of these changes were rolled back and the new controls were put into place, but the company’s crusade is far from over.

Now, Facebook is hard at work spreading “Instant Personalization” (the feature which gives select websites the ability to instantly tap into your Facebook profile information to customize their site) to even more online properties. Originally launched with Docs.com, Pandora and Yelp to the scrutiny of federal regulars, Facebook has recently expanded the program to Clicker, Bing, TripAdvisor, Rotten Tomatoes, and Scribd. The difference? This time around, no one seems to care.

The end of privacy and extreme openness seem to be to be the inevitable conclusion of a world cyberlinked together though the Internet. Information, as they say, wants to be free. From your Facebook photos to the private inner-workings of international diplomacy courtesy of Wikileaks. Managing online privacy is overly complex, businesses, marketers and advertisers want you to believe – it’s easier to give up, give in and disclose.

Will you? Have you?

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