Facebook Privacy Changes Explained

If you have had a Facebook account for a while, and statistically you probably have, you should have received an email recently explaining some changes that are being made to your account settings.

Facebook had a setting called "Who can look up your Timeline by name". This setting allowed you to control what sort of people would be able to find your profile by using Facebook's 'search' function.
It allowed you to be findable by all users, friends of friends or only friends.

This means that if you wanted your account to be a bit like an ex-directory phone number you could ensure that people with who you were not already connected could not discover you by typing your name into the search box.

Not being discoverable via search however is not the same as being completely undiscoverable or invisible. Your profile page was still available to all users (unless you had specifically blocked them) provided they could get to your page. There are several ways to find you which do not rely on search. For instance if you comment on someone else's profile, your comment accreditation will link to your Timeline. If a friend tags you in a photo, this tag will link to your Timeline. If people search for phrases like "People who like cake" in Graph Search, links to the profiles of any self confessed cake lovers will be served up.

It is for these reasons that Facebook thinks the ability to limit "Who can look up your Timeline by name" is no longer a relevant setting.

Now, one could argue that there are many valid reasons why an individual may not want to be discoverable on Facebook and that actually, not being discoverable in a search would be a useful partial defence in many cases.

Facebook however, would prefer that privacy was maintained at the level of publishing rather than publisher. i.e. not to control who can see that you have an account, but instead control what activity on that account they can see. Facebook provide settings for this in the 'Privacy Settings' section of your account admin.

There is a lot to be said for restricting discoverability but Facebook clearly don't agree and whether that be for usability or for commercial reasons the e-safety focus must be to ensure people understand how and why they should think about their privacy settings.

There is no doubt that many users are mistaken about who can see their activities and the fact that Facebook had settings for both discoverability and content privacy did little to aid comprehension.

By placing focus on the privacy settings around activity, it may make it easier at least to educate Facebook users about the activity trail they are leaving and who can see it.

In short, we should be encouraging people to make informed and considered decisions as to the privacy setting for each of their activities and not just stick with the defaults, which ofter lean towards the less restriction and wider visibility.

Written by E-safety Support on November 05, 2013 13:26


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