Facebook has a history of toying with its users and a mottled track record in dealing with privacy. How Facebook deals with information has changed again, with past posts now accessible publicly, potentially relegating the concept of ‘Private Accounts’ to the past. Facebook is now listed on the stock exchange, so it has a growing hoard of shareholders baying for increased returns and higher profits. Facebook earns money by helping third parties sell products and services to users – such as selling those little banner ads on the right-hand side of the page or charging for each Facebook user who clicks onto a third party site through Facebook.

Toying with information and privacy is one way to access greater information about users, to tailor advertising to users and provide greater value to third parties – more people click through to third party sites means greater revenue for Facebook – feeding the revenue beast. Incentives to change user’s privacy controls are manifest, and we’ll select previous instances of facebook’s troubled relationship with privacy, key takeaway regarding what you can to retain some control of your privacy on Facebook and a re-hash of Australian privacy law.

How is Facebook Handling Your Account Now?

In October 2015 Tom Stocky, VP of Facebook Search, announced that Facebook had decided to index the website’s 2 trillion posts, allowing Facebook’s users to search for public posts across the entire social media site. Users are now able to use Facebook’s search function to “find out what the world is saying about topics that matter to [them]” (emphasis added).

The idea is that Facebook search is now a function that enables users to find out what is going on. Perhaps Facebook intends to move into Twitter’s space and compete. With trillions of posts now available to users, Facebook can act as a key source of current events and breaking news. It’ll also allow users to search public conversations directly, which are focused on a particular topic and browse what others are saying about an event across Facebook. You can see how Facebook views its new functionality at search.fb.com. Note the emphasis on connecting ‘with friends old and new’.

Despite the bonhomie flowing from Facebook’s website, it doesn’t take much to make the leap about what this could mean for a privacy conscious individual (or anyone who doesn’t want comments their younger selves thought appropriate showing up years later).

Facebook’s change means that even if you have an account with privacy ramped-up as far as possible, any public posts you have made can be searchable by anyone. Anywhere. They don’t have to know you, or to be a “friend of a friend”. A person can also then see the person who posted the comment.

Other Involuntary Experiments

It is not exactly comforting to know that Facebook doesn’t have a glowing history of dealing with user information. Facebook has even conducted (and is likely to be still conducting) experiments for market research, which as one commentator noted are at varying degrees on the ‘WTF scale’. The title is ‘involuntary experiment’ because, in the vast majority of cases, users haven’t been informed that they’re taking part.

Geo-tracking: Facebook recently trialled having friend suggestions (i.e., the ‘people you may know’ function) pop up whenever people had been co-located. A commentator posited the worrying hypothetical – imagine you have been attending an AA meeting and the next day, a friend request pops up from one of the members of the group, showing their full name and contact details. Facebook quickly back-tracked on this functionality.

Manipulating Emotions: In 2014 Facebook wanted to see whether manipulating users’ feeds would manipulate their emotions. For two weeks around 689,000 people were shown either very positive images (cute babies, puppies, etc.) or negative ones.

Solutions to the Most Recent Changes

Coming back to the indexing of 2 trillion public posts, there is a solution to this information being displayed online. Use it as an opportunity to check your Facebook settings. To ensure your public posts don’t show up in a universal search, click “Settings” in the drop-down menu, then “Privacy” on the left. On this particular page, you can choose to “limit past posts”, to ensure only your friends can see posts.

Key Takeaways

With our friends, our employers, the shops we buy from, the newspapers we read from all on Facebook, the social networking site has found a way to be a part of our lives in some way or another. For those who want to keep easily in touch with overseas friends or not to miss out on invitations to events, having a Facebook account can be the only option. The indexing of 2 trillion posts is another item in the long line of moves by Facebook to manage its key assets – information – to make it a more profitable business. If you are a user of Facebook and slightly concerned about privacy, it pays to review your privacy settings to ensure they are what you think they are. Questions? Call us on 1300 544 755.

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Chloe Sevil
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