Debate Continues Around Facebook Privacy Changes

If you've been following All Tech Considered in recent days - or pretty much any other tech blog, for that matter - there's been a lot of chatter over the last week about the changes Facebook made to its privacy settings.

All Tech's Shereen Meraji wrote this overview of the situation, including several members of Congress complaining directly to Facebook. Today I got a chance to talk about the controversywith Michele Norris on All Things Considered.

Many of the comments you've posted on the blog reflect a lot of the conversations that have taken place across the Internet. For some people like S. Lan Smith, the controversy is overblown. "Don't Senators have more important things to worry about?," Smith asked. "Why is the privacy policy of a privately owned entity their business anyway?" Steve Parks shared this sentiment when he added, "Oh good -– the Senate's involved."

Vicki Surratt, however, captured the mood of many people who felt Facebook had gone too far:

I strongly disagree with Facebook's opt-out policy in this matter, but they're out to make a profit, not to ensure the safekeeping of anyone's private information. Therefore, they are highly motivated to do the wrong thing even when they are aware it's wrong. They'll make a front of wanting to discuss the issue, but as long as it's profitable for them, they'll maintain the opt-out option.

This is the danger of putting personal information within the control of others. If something is truly personal, it should not be on Facebook or any other social networking site in the first place. In the end, there is only one person responsible for your privacy: you. Facebook cannot share with others what you do not share with Facebook.

A number of commenters, such as Seymour Glass, noted how Facebook's decision to make their users opt-out of their privacy changes rather than opt-in because doing otherwise would limit the value of the new tools.

"Clearly, I much prefer Facebook asks permission before it shares my information with a third party -- who wouldn't?" he wrote. "I think Facebook is choosing the opt-out option because they realize most people would not choose to opt-in. I just joined fb recently and I already regret it, I hope people don't consider me antisocial if I close my account."

Larry V, meanwhile, was more resigned to the situation. "Whether Facebook ask permission from users to share personal information with third parties vs. opting-out option is meaningless because in the end there is no such thing as privacy in the technology modern real world," he wrote.

If you want to see how others are weighing in, check out this collection of links from blogger Melissa Venable, including Lifehacker's post on how to restore your privacy settings on Facebook.

As for me, I’m taking it one day at a time. While I think it’s really useful to see the content my friends are sharing on sites like ABCNews.com and WashingtonPost.com, I’m not surprised by how many people have told me they’re creeped out by the whole thing. Suddenly I'm hearing the phrase "opt-in" uttered by friends and family who’ve probably never discussed online terms of service policies in their lives. I haven’t made any changes to my privacy settings, though I’m glad I reviewed my settings, as well as checked out all of my interests on my profile page, just to be sure I didn't mind the way they're now displayed. The only major change I made was adding a new activity to my profile: Monitoring my Facebook privacy settings. I imagine I won't be the only one.

Where do you stand on the Facebook privacy debate? Have you changed your privacy settings or do you intend to? Is it much ado about nothing? Would it bother you if more sites -– even NPR.org, for that matter -– implemented some of these tools so you could see what stories you and your friends were sharing? Do you think opt-in should be the norm? Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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