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How the New Facebook Privacy Settings Work
Yes, big changes have come to Facebook, but not quite this profound. You should have noticed by now prominent notifications that privacy settings on the social network have changed.

The major changes are:

* You can control who does and doesn't have access to every item you post. The major settings you can make are "Everyone," "Friends" and "Friends of Friends" but you can include and exclude specific names
* Regional networks (cities, countries, etc.) have been eliminated. Many became so large the lost their usefulness.
* Certain information about all users is now publicly available. This may be more information than you previously had available to complete strangers.
* Facebook apps and outside sites that use the Facebook API can only access information that you've made accessible to Everyone (unless you grant them greater access).

Facebook also insists that they do not, and never have, given any personally identifiable information to advertisers.

It's definitely a good idea to go through your privacy settings and make sure you agree with Facebook's defaults. Click Profile Information for the big decisions: How open do you want to be with your birthday, your religion, and who your family is? I decided to make almost everything available only to friends. My About Me and Education and Work are available to Everyone.

Certain items are considered public information and are always available to everyone, including: your name, your profile picture, your gender, your networks, and friends list. If you don't like this being public, don't put this information on Facebook.

Many items are set by Facebook by default to be accessible to Everyone. All your photo albums, for example, It's easy to go through these and change the settings though.

The next settings page is Contact information. Here you define who can see your IM screen name, mobile phone number, home town, and so on, assuming you have put these things in Facebook. Most are set to Only Friends, but website, Add me as a friend and Send me a message are all open to Everyone and Hometown is available to Friends of Friends. Don't change Add me as a friend or Send me a message, since these are key to people being able to find you and contact you on Facebook.

The Applications and Websites privacy page. As I said above, applications have access to that which you have made available to Everyone. Interestingly, the "What your friends can share about you" page shows that your friends can make public, through Facebook applications, many of the things you just restricted. Think carefully if you want your friends to be able easily to share all of these items. The last 2 settings in Applications and Websites are Blocked Applications and Ignore Application Invites, which you can use to shut off annoying apps.

On the Search page there are 2 options: do you want yourself to be searchable from inside Facebook and of course you do. There's no point in being on Facebook if you hide to this degree. Public Search Results (defaulting to yes) controls whether your public information (described above) and anything you set to Everyone can be indexed by public search engines like Google. I don't see a reason not to do this, because anything set to Everyone is effectively available to the world anyway. If you don't want this on a search engine you shouldn't have made it so accessible on Facebook anyway.

Finally, the Block List lets you block all communication (through Facebook) with specific people by name or e-mail.

The security pro in me finds these changes a little disappointing. I have friends from many different circles and I might want to share something with only some of them, such as just my co-workers or my in-laws. This is why systems that have real security let you create your own groups and apply security to them. This is possible, in a way, with the new settings, but not convenient. To have to name people explicitly in white- and black-lists is too cumbersome, unless there are one or two specific people you want to involve.

Would this have been a good idea for Facebook? I think so. Letting users specify names means they want to give users real power controlling their own information. Groups are not a large conceptual leap and would greatly improve ease of security management. And the distinction "Friends of Friends" is a useless one; you really need to assume that it's equivalent to "Everyone".

Many self-styled privacy advocates have objected to the changes because of the relatively wide-open nature of the defaults. Facebook has been "in your face" about these changes and you have far more power now over your privacy than you previously had. This, it seems to me, is a good thing. But I'm sure many users will take the defaults and not consider the implications.

It's up to you to take advantage of that power and take control over who sees your information. Don't just trust Facebook's defaults blindly.

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