Facebook Removes Privacy Setting, So Anyone Can Find Your Profile

10.10.2013
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Very soon, any Facebook user you haven’t blocked will be able to search for your name and find your Facebook profile. It’s Google for people and you’re just a result. Only no one would know that this is a big change by the way Facebook describes it in its blog post. Ho-hum, just “finishing the removal of an old search setting,” says chief privacy officer Michael Richter.

Here’s how it used to work: under the setting “Who can look up your Timeline by name?” users could control whether they could be found by selecting Everyone, Friends, or Friends of Friends. But last year, Facebook removed the setting for “for people who weren’t using it,” because “only a single-digit percentage of the nearly 1.2 billion people on its network” used the setting.

Facebook argues people weren’t using it because that privacy setting didn’t matter to them. But it’s clear from their own description that part of the reason people didn’t exercise the privacy option is because it was so hard to understand. Just look at the language. Who can look up your Timeline by name doesn’t make it clear what you’re safeguarding or what users can see.

According to Richter:

The setting was created when Facebook was a simple directory of profiles and it was very limited. For example, it didn’t prevent people from navigating to your Timeline by clicking your name in a story in News Feed, or from a mutual friend’s Timeline. […]

The setting also made Facebook’s search feature feel broken at times. For example, people told us that they found it confusing when they tried looking for someone who they knew personally and couldn’t find them in search results, or when two people were in a Facebook Group and then couldn’t find each other through search.

To add insult to privacy invasion, Facebook presents this change as a step toward more privacy controls:

Today, people can also search Facebook using Graph Search (for example, “People who live in Seattle,”) making it even more important to control the privacy of the things you share rather than how people get to your Timeline.

So basically, Facebook puts the onus on its users. With every photo and status update and comment you share, you have to think about who you want to be able to see it now or search for it in perpetuity. Realistically, who’s gonna do that?

On TechCrunch, Facebook’s volunteer techsplainer Josh Constine calls it a “wise move”:

Keeping this privacy option around gave people a false sense of security. For that reason, it’s wise for Facebook to remove it. But it should have provided an ever stronger universal privacy control for opting out of search, not a slew of weaker ones.

Constine then employs a darling euphemism to describe the balancing act between making profits and protecting content users did not know would be searchable when they posted them:

For people with stalkers, though, Facebook may have just gotten a bit more dangerous. Facebook tells me the way to keep a specific person from finding your profile or viewing any of your content is to block them. But what if your stalker just signs up for a fake profile with a new name? Then they could search and find you.

This is where the friction of Facebook’s mission to connect the world, responsibility to make money for its investors, and its duty to keep people’s privacy safe come into conflict.

Just a little friction. This won’t hurt a bit.

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