This past month Facebook announced two changes which arguably decrease privacy protection for its users. The first change was to make every Facebook user’s timeline searchable. The second was to allow Facebook users under 18 years old to share content with the general public.

Facebook recently removed the privacy setting allowing users to restrict who can look them up by name. Previously, enabling this setting did not make it impossible for someone’s Facebook profile to be found: a user’s could still be located if they were tagged in a post or picture by a friend. However, this setting did stop a user’s profile from showing up when their name was typed into the website’s search bar, making the person significantly harder to find.

The removal of this privacy option should not drastically change a user’s ability to protect their private information on Facebook. The website noted that only “a small percentage of users” took advantage of the setting and would be affected by the change. Additionally, Facebook users can still control the privacy of their individual posts. Therefore, even if a member of the public can find a user’s profile, they cannot see content, such as pictures and statuses, that have been designated as only to be viewed by friends. While this mitigates the effect of the change in policy, it is important to note that none of the website’s current privacy setting allow users to replicate the function of the “Who can look up your timeline by name?” setting and make their profiles completely unsearchable.

Facebook also recently allowed teenage users to share statuses, pictures, and content with the general public. Previously, Facebook users under the age of 18 had been limited to sharing content with friends and friends of friends. The website explained the decision by noting that it would allow teenagers who are active in their communities to share their message and advocate for causes they believe in. Additionally, the content posted by teenagers will not immediately become available to the general public, and the default setting for posts by users under 18 is still that this content can only be seen by friends.

Both of these changes are relatively minor and unlikely to significantly affect the privacy of Facebook users. However, some commentators have noted that the changes represent “the steady erosion of privacy online.” For those who are concerned about their personal privacy, and that of their children, it will be important to closely monitor future changes to Facebook’s privacy policy. If these changes are an isolated incident, they are unlikely to have a significant effect on personal privacy. However, if they represent a continued trend toward a more open website, users will need to carefully evaluate what they post on Facebook and possibly whether to eliminate their accounts entirely.

–Daniel Rheiner

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One Response to Changes in Facebook’s Privacy Policy: Isolated Incidents or Continuing Trend?

  1. Samantha says:

    Great post! It nicely analyzes the privacy changes to facebook. I agree that, while these changes seem minor, they may be representative of a larger trend. It will be interesting to see what happens in the near future.

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