Friday, October 11, 2013
Any change to Facebook, whether it's a tweak in its site design or an overhaul of its privacy settings, generates a groan or two.
In another effort to improve its users' experience on the social network, Facebook is getting rid of an old and sometimes glitch-prone privacy option that will now render every Facebook user searchable to any other user.
The old privacy setting -- called "Who can look up your Timeline by name?" -- gave users the option to not appear in Facebook search results. If Mark Zuckerberg himself wanted to keep all Facebook users from looking up his Timeline and activity via the Facebook search bar, he could toggle the setting so that only friends, or friends of friends, could do so.
However, according to Facebook's Chief Privacy Officer Michael Richter, that led to some problems with the search function itself. "People told us that they found it confusing when they tried looking for someone who they knew personally and couldn't find them in search results," he said in a statement. Facebook is phasing out this privacy option and will make all users accessible via the search bar.
The search bar wasn't the only way for people to be found on Facebook. "It didn't prevent people from navigating to your Timeline by clicking your name in a story in News Feed," said Richter. He noted that users could also be found through Graph Search, which lets Facebook users put in more general search terms such as "people who live in Seattle" and returns a list of people who fit the description.
Bradley Shear, a lawyer who specializes in Internet privacy and social media, said it's a bad move on Facebook's part. "Facebook has over a billion users," he told ABC News. "Even though only a small number of users used this privacy option, that can still mean millions of users." Facebook did not specify what percentage of users opted to use this privacy option, but confirmed with ABC News that it was a small percentage, within the single digits.
"The best way to control what people can find about you on Facebook is to choose who can see the individual things you share," said Richter. To enforce this point, Facebook will notify users making a public post on their timeline that people they don't know may be able to see their activity. In addition, Facebook said that users can still block specific people from seeing their own Timeline.
While it may be more convenient for some users trying to connect with one another, Shear said that in the long run it could hurt them. "That notification and this privacy change is going to make people think twice about the content they post online," he said. "Facebook's business strategy depends on people sharing more info, and so they're looking at things from a short-term perspective and not over the long term."