Thursday, May 20, 2010

COLUMN: A Facebook privacy primer (they know where you live)

Dear Facebook member:

It has come to our attention that certain users have raised concerns over our privacy policy. We’d just like you to know that here at Facebook, it’s extremely important to us that your information is kept private, to be shared only among your friends, networks, fans, people who “like” the same things you do, and users of applications you don’t realize you’ve signed up for.

It’s true that it’s in our best interests, for growth and advertising purposes, to make as much of your personal information as possible freely available over the Web. But we make a promise never to share what’s on your profile unless you have expressly authorized us to do so by not un-checking an arcane series of hard-to-find boxes, some of which don’t exist.

So just to make sure you understand your privacy rights as a Facebook user, we’ve put together the following easy-to-follow guidelines:

1) Default settings. Just to make things easier, our default settings make your personal information, photos and videos accessible to everyone on the Web, including your mother, your second-grade teacher and the guy who, at this very moment, is Photoshopping the heads of strange children onto the bodies of centaurs.

However, you can easily modify these settings. For instance, you can make your information visible only to certain networks, certain friends, or “only you,” if you want to be just as much of a lonely loser as you were before you joined Facebook. Your call.

2) Photos. We understand why you might have concerns over who can see photos of you that you’ve posted, or that are posted by your friends, or by an old boyfriend or girlfriend who swore the pictures were just for their own personal viewing. Boy, did we find out about that the hard way.

But the rumors that embarrassing pictures of you hunched over a toilet or wearing a Sexy French Maid Halloween costume are automatically visible to your boss and your priest are entirely untrue. Assuming you’ve checked and/or unchecked the right boxes, they can only be seen by friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends and all the other people who play Farmville.

3) Personal information. We want to state unequivocally that we do not sell your personal information to third parties. In fact, we give it to third parties in exchange for drugs. Ha ha! Just a little Facebook humor there. (Just the part about the drugs — the part about giving your information away is true.)

4) Instant Personalization Pilot Program. This is the program that allows other websites, like Yelp and Pandora, to access your profile information. However, you can opt out of this program, and at this very moment we have a team of engineers trying to determine how one might go about doing that.

“But Facebook, why would you ever presume that we’d want you to share our information with other websites without our permission?” you might ask. To which we’d respond: “Shut up and play some more Farmville.”

5) If you’re embarrassed about people seeing your “Like” list, maybe you should stop liking things like Barry Manilow and “Jersey Shore.” You know who you are. And so do we.

Finally, we want to remind you that, if you’re that concerned about people seeing the information you somehow thought would remain private just because that’s what we told you when you signed up, you always have the option of deleting your account.

Good luck figuring out how to do it.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Follow him on Twitter at (You can try to friend him on Facebook, but he’ll probably ignore you.)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

That was one of the funniest things I have read in a while. And it came right after I read an article on CNN about individuals deleting their facebook accounts over privacy issues.