Just in time for the F8 Conference yesterday, Facebook made some big changes to the user experience of the site earlier this week. As is the tradition in Facebook mythology, members aren’t happy and complaints are flowing through the News Feed like never before. But we aren’t here to talk about whether the new features on Facebook are good or bad; we want to discuss what they mean for your online privacy.
Similar to the concept of Google +’s circles, Facebook has added Smart Lists for users to the left side bar on the home page. Very inconveniently, Facebook sorted my lists for me without my input; when I first logged onto the site to see the new changes, it automatically told me who I work with, went to school with, who I am related to and my favorite, who lives in the same neighborhood as me.
After reading the official Facebook blog post on Smart Lists, I realized that some of the features are helpful. You can add friends you don’t want to share with to a restricted list so they don’t get any updates. Having lists also helps you filter who you share what with.
However, there are some features that aren’t exactly privacy-friendly. I was disappointed to see that when you add a user to your work or school lists, they get a notifications telling them which list they are added to. Also, other people on your list can see the other members, which means lists aren’t exactly secure.
Alterations have also been made to the news feed. Instead of seeing Top News or Recent news, users now just get the stories Facebook has denoted as the top ones. According to its blog, Facebook wants this new feed to become your own personal newspaper and the network has developed a new algorithm to determine what is newsworthy to its users. The blog states, “You won’t have to worry about missing important stuff. All your news will be in a single stream with the most interesting stories featured at the top… The first things you’ll see are top photos and statuses posted while you’ve been away. They’re marked with an easy-to-spot blue corner.” In theory, this has the potential to be great. However, privacy-minded individuals may find it disconcerting that Facebook has mandated that it knows a user well enough to determine what and who that user thinks is important.
As though the News Feed wasn’t enough, Facebook has come up with a way for user-interactions to live in real-time. Similar to Twitter, the new Ticker, that can be found in the upper right hand corner above the chat bar, is an easy way to consume content as soon as it is posted.
Facebook describes this instantaneous connection in the aforementioned blog post, “Now when a friend comments, asks a question or shares something like a check in, you’ll be able to join the conversation right away. Click on anything in ticker to see the full story and chime in – without losing your place.”
In terms of privacy, this ticker offers nothing new about what a user shares and does on Facebook. However, it is making that information and data readily accessible to all other friends without lag time. For this new feature, it depends on where a user draws the line on what is an invasion of privacy.
Friendships on Facebook have always been a mutual agreement; if I friend request you and you accept me, I am your friend and you are my friend. Now, with the addition of the subscription option, Facebook is switching things up a bit and developing a more Twitter- like relationship. If you want to get updates from a person you don’t actually know- like a journalist, artist, political figure or reality TV star- you can by “subscribing” to them. (This is similar to the “follow” feature on Twitter which isn’t automatically reciprocal).
When I first saw this option, I, personally, was a bit nervous. Facebook isn’t well known for handling user privacy discreetly. Did the network open up my private profile to the public by allowing strangers to subscribe to me? Well the answer is a happy no! All users have to opt-in to allow this feature to be activated. If you choose to do so, check out the option here. Even if you have to the subscribe option switched on, you can still make your posts and content updates private by hiding them from your subscribers and just sharing them with your friends (or a specific smart list).
Although this feature might make the user experience a bit more convoluted (in my opinion at least), it actually handles privacy rather nicely!