Major privacy and safety updates at Facebook

By Anne Collier

This week Facebook starts rolling out* a new level of control users have over their profiles and privacy. Among a number of positive changes are: the ability to approve any photo or post you’re tagged in before it’s visible to others on your profile; the ability to approve or not any tag someone tries to add to your photos or posts; and the ability to decide who sees what you post right before you click “Post.” These “inline” settings put privacy (or exposure) front and center in real time.

I’ll explain what that means in a minute, but here’s why it’s good: It gives users the chance to think about the level of exposure each post or photo gets in the middle of any activity in Facebook. That’s built-in encouragement for everybody to be a little more mindful about their sharing, and the more real-time mindfulness the better – a progressive step. It would be good to reinforce this progress with family discussion about using these tools in one’s own and each other’s best interests. Because, in this media environment where experiences are shared, safety and privacy are too.

Inline privacy setting

The way it works is that there will be a drop-down menu where you post photos, comments, etc. The menu lets users choose who can see what they’re posting among three options: “Public” (for adults) or “Friends of Friends” (for users under 18), “Friends,” or “Custom” (specific friends one designates). If you want to change who the viewers are (Friends, Friends of Friends, etc.), you can switch right then. There’s a new transparency to this: no more trying to remember who you said in your Privacy Settings could see what or having to click through a few pages to be reminded – something I have a feeling people rarely took the time to do. [For screenshots of what all this looks like, see Facebook’s blog post.]

“This is the biggest change to Facebook privacy settings since May of 2010 when the company last tried to simplify controls,” writes my co-director Larry Magid in the Huffington Post. “But, based on what I can tell from my pre-briefings, they seemed to have done a better job this time.”

Other inline opportunities are: tagging friends you’re with as you post the photo or update and adding your location (where you’re posting, such as your neighborhood, city, or a specific location you type in). The location option can be turned on or off anytime. Some parents may object to making tagging and location even more focal, so here are a couple of things that might be helpful to know. Tagging friends has always been a favorite and, this time, if FB “taketh away” any privacy, it also “giveth” – adding more control for users over being tagged and over what appears on their profiles. As for location, what hasn’t changed is that people have been able to tell friends their location since the beginning of Facebook – in updates, chat, messages, etc. This just makes general location part of the mix of visible inline options.

New FB security guide

Another user-empowerment development is the free, downloadable “OwnYourSpace: A Guide to Facebook Security.” Its authors – computer and network security experts Linda McCarthy, Keith Watson, and Denise Weldon-Siviy – say it tells you “how to protect your [Facebook] account, avoid scammers, and configure advanced security settings,” “how to use one-time passwords, secure browsing, and track your account activity,” what motivates account thieves and malware pushers and what you should if they try to hijack your FB account, among other things.

* “Rolling out” because it takes time to make changes in every language worldwide, and Facebook tells us its service is used in every country in the world, but they told me last week that this will be a fast roll-out, so our friends around the world won’t have to wait long for these welcome changes.

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