Since its inception, Facebook has undergone a revolution in terms of how users can find out information about each other. It has gradually reduced the amount of steps necessary to keep up with changes on friends’ pages (and lives), such as by creating a page that collects all of your friends’ photos, by initiating a twitter-like status update feature, and by, of course, sparking controversy by engineering the home page into what is now the News Feed–a little blessing that makes every little change or update on every friend’s profile available for viewing upon logging into the site.

The flip side of such an easily accessible information system is the drastic reduction the site has for a user’s privacy, not to mention the legal consequences of determining whom actually owns all of the content uploaded to the site. While it is true that “[n]o other social-networking site provides users the kind of granular privacy settings for their profiles and applications that Facebook does,” it is estimated that barely a quarter of Facebook users even use their privacy settings on a regular basis. And when Facebook updates its site so frequently that users cannot keep up with the changes, privacy options that once seemed almost overly protective can be rendered useless.

Indeed, Facebook has recently tweaked its privacy options in ways that many users may not be aware. On June 24, Facebook announced a new beta program for the publisher that engineers the site’s News Feed. The new program allows users to choose who can view a particular status update they enter, from the most public choice of “Everyone”–which publishes the information to anyone on the Internet, on or off Facebook–to the most private choice of one particular friend. This is the most particularized privacy setting offered yet, as previously a user could only adjust a privacy setting that would apply to a category of posts, such as photos or status messages, rather than to each particular posting.

Currently, the beta program is only being tested on users who never changed their privacy setting from the default “Everyone.” In time, the site plans to expand the options to those who have already adjusted their privacy options. One main goal of the change was to streamline Facebook’s privacy options and simplify the methods by which users decide how public or private their information should be, but a Facebook spokesperson has said the site advocates that users use the public setting as a default, so as to promote sharing of information and connecting to people.

While streamlined and simplified privacy settings are in theory beneficial to protecting a user’s privacy, the emerging theme is that Facebook wants as much information to be public by default as possible. The days of a Facebook-encapsuled social sphere are long gone; as evidence, the site is even considering allowing public posts to appear in Google search results.

It is widely known that potential employers use Facebook and Google to look up information on a job candidate. Combining the power of Google with the personal details of a Facebook post could result in a user’s one damaging Facebook post being found by a potential employer. Since Facebook may be quietly edging toward a “public by default” realm, Facebook’s 200 million users should familiarize themselves with each new privacy adjustment so as not to be accidentally caught with photos from an embarrassing fraternity party showing up on an employer’s desktop, as just one example of an unfortunate Facebook “overshare.”

Rachel Friedman

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