Facebook privacy settings have long been a point of concern, but changes to new-user posting defaults have made it easier to avoid accidental broadcasts to the entire world. The changes, which came about after Facebook overhauled its privacy center in April, may offer capabilities that are still unfamiliar to some users, who have yet to change settings to ensure they have the privacy level they are comfortable with.
In the past, new Facebook user accounts were set to “public” as a default for posting. This meant that everyone could see the post, but many people did not know about this. In April the default was changed to “friends,” and a reminder dinosaur, nicknamed Zuckersaurus after the the social network’s founder Mark Zuckerburg, pops up and reminds the user to make sure to check their privacy settings to ensure they are sharing only with those they intend to. Facebook’s decision to make the default sharing option “everyone” was popular with online advertisers who were trying to get as much data as possible, but for this very reason was frequently the subject of frustration for millions of users. The social network now faces competition from new social apps that have made discretion and privacy a selling point, such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, and Secret.
Now that the latest features and privacy settings have been released, Facebook users still need to know what they are and how to use them. For instance, a new feature called Nearby Friends alerts the user to friends who are close by. When turning on the feature it is possible to chose who gets to see a user’s location, from all friends down to specific individuals. However, when Nearby Friends is turned on, so is Location History, which Facebook uses to build a database of where its users have been, even when they are not running the app. Location History can be turned off, and past locations can be deleted as well, if users know the feature exists.
Privacy settings for profile cover photos have traditionally been public by default. Users are already able to change the privacy settings of old profile pictures, but Facebook has recently started rolling out a change that will allow the user to change the privacy settings on old cover photos as well.
Mobile devices have run Facebook a little differently, with the audience selector previously hidden behind the privacy setting icon. They have now moved the audience selector to the top of the update status box so it is easier to see when sharing a post, and help prevent distributing information accidentally to everyone on the Internet.
Facebook is a frequent target for malware, often in posts or videos that tempt the user to open them with the promise of seeing something fascinating. This malware can collect information from accounts and send status updates that look like they legitimately come from a friend’s account. Or they might cover the users account with ads that would cause their computer to crash. Facebook has partnered with F-Secure and Trend Micro to offer free anti-malware scanning. If Facebook detects a threat it will recommend that one of these programs be downloaded. The malware program removes itself once it is done running.
Ads show up on Facebook based on the user’s actions, such as when the user likes a page or comments on a story. Known as Social Ads, these postings might show up to friends when the user likes a specific page. For example, liking a restaurant page may show up paired with the restaurant’s ads. It is now possible to opt out of Social Ads.
Facebook keeps track of more information than users may be comfortable with. One feature they might find intrusive is audio recognition, a new mobile app that uses the device microphone to identify television shows, songs, or movies so it is possible for the user to quickly update what thy are doing. This is an opt-in feature. Another is search data tracking, keeping a record of everything searched for, including pages and people. The search history cannot be turned off, but it can be cleared. Similarly, it is possible to opt out of Google search. Without turning this off, a Google search for a user’s name will show links to their Facebook profile.
Some apps and websites allow users to sign in using their Facebook logins, which previously meant that the app had access to certain information in the Facebook profile. It is now possible to use an anonymous signin with some of those partnering apps, and Facebook plans to extend it to more. It is also possible to stop friends’ apps from accessing personal data from another user. This is another privacy setting, found under “Apps others use.”
Facebook is also going to be launching a “privacy check-up” that will allow users to easily review their settings. While it has always been possible to control these settings, many users found it too complicated, or were unaware that the sharing or the control was possible. The fixes are becoming easier, but education on features is still a key for Facebook user satisfaction.
By Beth A. Balen