Facebook changes new user default privacy setting to friends only — adds privacy checkup

This post first appeared on Forbes.com.

Until now, when new Facebook users sent out their first post, the default setting was public, which means that anyone could see it. It’s long been easy to change the audience to Friends only but if you didn’t know about that option, you could have accidentally told the world what you meant to only tell people you know and trust.

Disclosure: Facebook is one of the companies that provides financial support to ConnectSafely.org, the non-profit Internet safety organization where I serve as co-director.

Change for new users only

Facebook is changing the default for new users so that, going forward, the default setting is Friends. The change will have no impact on existing users. The first time someone posts, they will see a reminder to choose an audience for that post and if they don’t make a choice it defaults to Friends.

In a statement, Facebook said that “We recognize that it is much worse for someone to accidentally share with everyone when they actually meant to share just with friends, compared with the reverse.”

Changeable but sticky

 You can easily change the audience of each post and once you make a change it becomes sticky, which means it remains that way till you change it again. So, if you normally post to friends and decide to post something to the public, your subsequent posts will also be public until you change it back to friends only.

That stickiness is important to remember. If you normally post just to friends and decide to post something publicly, you must remember to change the setting back to Friend the next time you post or your posts will remain accessible to the public.

Privacy checkup

Facebook is also launching a “privacy check-up” to enable users to review their privacy practices and settings such as “who they’re posting to and the privacy settings for information on their profiles,” according to Facebook. It also helps users review which apps they’re using and “the privacy of key pieces of information on their profile.”

Earlier App privacy changes

At the F8 Facebook developers conference last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced changes to its app privacy policies including allowing people to interact anonymously with apps (Facebook knows who you are but you have the choice about whether to reveal your identity to the app developer). Facebook is also providing users with more control over what information they reveal to apps as well as more control over what others can share about them via apps.

Steps in the right direction

I have to give Facebook credit for giving users more control over their privacy and changing the default from public to friends. Its always been possible to control your privacy on Facebook but it’s often been too complicated — especially for new users who could so easily to a broader than intended audience. I’m not entirely sure what motivated these most recent changes but I suspect they will be welcomed by users.

The privacy checkup is another important step. One of the biggest complaints about Facebook privacy is that users don’t know what is out there that others can see and may not be aware of how to control who has access to their content. Of course, this isn’t the first time Facebook has sought to simplify its privacy settings. There have been numerous changes over the years including, for example, the addition of an activity log, a couple of years ago, that helps people uncover what they’ve posted and what’s been posted about them.

There is still more work to be done in terms of educating users about their privacy and how to limit what people can see about them on Facebook and beyond. Facebook also needs to do more to educate people about how their personal information is used to direct advertising.