Choose Privacy Week: Facebook

Click on this image to enlarge and read the "fine print"

 photo credit: kristiewells via photo pin cc

Wired magazine’s Epicenter featured the article “Report: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Believe in Privacy on April 28, 2010. Written by Eliot van Buskirk, the article discussed Facebook and its tenuous relationship with privacy:

Facebook has been on a relentless quest over the past six months to become the center of identity and connections online. The site unilaterally decided last December that much of a user’s profile information, including the names of all their friends and the things they were “fans” of, would be public information — no exceptions or opt-outs allowed.

Buskirk goes on to explain that Zuckerberg defended the change as an effort to keep up with the openness of Twitter. Just prior to the publication of the Wired article, Facebook announced it was sending user profile information en mass to companies like Yelp and Pandora, which allows users to see personalized services if they are using one of the sites while logged into Facebook.

Around this time, Buskirk explains, Facebook began to push the then-new “Like” button.

Clicking that button sends that information to Facebook, which publishes it as part of what it calls the Open Graph, linking your identity to things you choose online. That information, in turn, is shared with whatever sites Facebook chooses to share it with — and to the sites you’ve allowed to access your profile.

 photo credit: Nouhailler via photo pin cc

The Wired article is just one of many broadcasting the contentious argument of Facebook privacy. A Google search of “Facebook privacy” reveals only a superficial exposure to the issues. The controversies are endless: Zuckerberg doesn’t value privacy, user information is made available to third-party applications, customizable privacy settings are buried and arduous, photos deleted as long as three years ago still exist on Facebook servers…the list goes on.

The Calarco Library wants to use this post as a way to 1. inform you of the privacy issues surrounding Facebook and 2. provide some how-to information that will help you protect your information while maintaining an active Facebook account.


A small portion of the laundry list of privacy issues associated with Facebook was rattled off above, but let’s focus on two: customizable privacy settings and third-party apps.

The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook via kwout

Content attributed to Matt McKeon

Here is a still image of an interactive infographic initially created by Matt McKeon, but improved over time through reader/user input (a crowd-sourced product). This image explains Facebook default privacy settings by displaying the default availability of any Facebook user’s information online in 2005. The most private level of availability is “You” (completely private) and the least private level is “The Entire Internet.” As of 2005, when Facebook became available on a large number of college/university campuses, nothing was available to “The Entire Internet.” Only Gender, Name, Default Picture, and Network were available to “All Facebook Users.” Take note that in 2005, “All Facebook Users” consisted only of individuals with university associations (i.e. a university/college e-mail account).

The Evolution of Privacy on Facebook via kwout

Content attributed to Matt McKeon

Let’s jump to April 2010. First, observe the availability of Facebook to Internet users. By this point, “All Facebook Users” had become anyone with an e-mail address, thereby decreasing privacy level of “All Facebook Users” and increasing the complexities of privacy level settings on Facebook. In 2005, default settings kept the bulk of user information at the “Network” level or lower. By 2010, everything except Birthday and Contact Info is available to “The Entire Internet” if you maintain the default privacy settings that are applied to a newly-created Facebook account.

A post on Electronic Frontier Foundation website titled Facebook’s Eroding Privacy Policy: A Timeline published April 28, 2010, explains the erosion of privacy on Facebook in plain terms:

Since its incorporation just over five years ago, Facebook has undergone a remarkable transformation. When it started, it was a private space for communication with a group of your choice. Soon, it transformed into a platform where much of your information is public by default. Today, it has become a platform where you have no choice but to make certain information public, and this public information may be shared by Facebook with its partner websites and used to target ads.

Author Kurt Opsahl concisely connects the controversy surrounding the availability of private information to the public and the use of that information by Facebook. Some Facebook users argue that they have nothing to hide and find few problems with the evolution of Facebook privacy. However, that argument is often made without the awareness of Facebook’s relationship with third-party apps.

Mark Zuckerberg opens the Facebook f8 conference with user growth numbers alongside major product launches.

photo credit: niallkennedy via photo pin cc

Lori Andrews published an op-ed piece in the New York Times on February 4, 2012 titled “Facebook is Using You.” In it, Andrews explains:

Facebook makes money by selling ad space to companies that want to reach us. Advertisers choose key words or details — like relationship status, location, activities, favorite books and employment — and then Facebook runs the ads for the targeted subset of its 845 million users. If you indicate that you like cupcakes, live in a certain neighborhood and have invited friends over, expect an ad from a nearby bakery to appear on your page. The magnitude of online information Facebook has available about each of us for targeted marketing is stunning.

While Zuckerberg is notoriously lauded as a man who idealizes openness and “the richest man who doesn’t really care about money,” other people very much care about money. Targeted advertising is disconcerting to some, but it is (sometimes grudgingly) accepted in a Googlized world. More controversial is Facebook profile information being made available to third-party applications such as Instagram, Pandora, Yelp and location-based services (Twitter, FourSquare, etc.). The new tool Privacyscore for Facebook was recently released as a means to detail the privacy policies and tracking practices of more than 200 Facebook apps. Byron Acohido writes in USA Today:

According to PrivacyChoice, 140 different tracking entities routinely collect information about users of the top Facebook apps. Trackers can correlate that data to profiles of individuals’ browsing behavior across multiple Web pages in order to deliver more relevant ads. “It’s up to users to know the privacy risk of sharing personal data with apps,” says Jim Brock, PrivacyChoice founder and CEO.

Facebook Privacy How-To

The good news is that Facebook privacy settings have evolved and are now incredibly customizable. It is important to remember that the default settings (as displayed in the second Infographic chart) are applied to all new Facebook profiles. It is your job to customize everything from your basic information, to photos, to timeline, to likes. If you are concerned about third-party applications, don’t approve (or disconnect) connections to Facebook. If you cannot figure out how to separate your Facebook profile from a third-party app, you might have to choose between access to the application and privacy controls. Learn how to create lists (similar to Google+ circles) and use lists as a means to protect your information. Below are several links and a video with some how-to information. For further instruction, please visit our Choose Privacy Week LibGuide Facebook Page which includes a selection of articles from Mashable.

Helpful links:

  1. How to Update Your Facebook Privacy Settings
  2. How to Opt Out of Facebook’s Instant Personalization
  3. How to Protect Your Privacy on Facebook Timeline
  4. Facebook Timeline Privacy Tips: Lock Down Your Profile
  5. How to Set Facebook Privacy Settings

Finally, here is a brief video showing an overview of 2012’s Facebook privacy settings. More detailed explanations are readily available on

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