Facebook woos Twitterati with new privacy settings

Facebook's privacy overhaul suggests it's looking nervously over its shoulder at the rise of Twitter...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Facebook has just announced that it’s trialling a raft of potential changes to its current privacy settings, including allowing users to make their status updates and other contributions visible to all and sundry, rather than just people in their particular network. And if you think this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s basically allowing users to do exactly what Twitter users do – i.e. post an update on what sandwich they’re eating for lunch for the benefit of anyone with a functional search engine and an appetite for mundane trivia. So it’s clearly worrying about the threat from the latest Big New Thing – although the fact that it’s trying to reinvent itself suggests it’s trying to avoid the mistakes made by MySpace…

Facebook’s new options will allow users to post status updates that are completely public (or visible to a specific group of friends), or to become a ‘fan’ of another user. For those of you who have already succumbed to the charms of ‘following’ people on Twitter (or being followed yourself), this might ring a few bells. Facebook’s argument is that it wants to simplify its current privacy settings – which in fairness are a bit confusing, to say the least. ‘We are committed to giving people even greater control over the information they share and the audiences with whom they share it,’ insists chief privacy officer Chris Kelly. 

This might sound like a slightly strange move for a company for Facebook, which has always made great play of its privacy credentials (hence the chief privacy officer, for instance). And it might result in your information being available to a wider audience. If you choose the ‘recommended’ setting, most of your profile will be visible to friends of friends (not just friends), and everyone will be able to see the content you publish, unless you specifically mark it as private. Lawyers have already been muttering darkly about the potential pitfalls of this – notably the possibility of accidentally publishing something to the whole world and never being able to un-publish it.

However, the fact remains that if you want to, you can maintain the same level of privacy as currently (it might even be easier now). And the default level will be higher than it is on Twitter, where your updates are visible to the world and even appear in search engine listings (something that may soon be true of Facebook, if you opt in). What’s interesting about this move is that it looks like a response to a competitive threat, and possibly an admission that the goalposts have shifted. The rise of Twitter – usage has increased 22-fold in the last year, Hitwise said this week – shows that lots of people are perhaps not quite as bothered about privacy as Facebook thought…

In today's bulletin:

Darling wades into bonus row - as trader loses £6m
Zut alors! Heat forces French power firms to buy British
Facebook woos Twitterati with new privacy settings
CFOs take centre stage
MT celebrates '35 Women Under 35' 2009

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