In the last month, Facebook’s made several main changes to how the site works in its goal to create “a Web where the default is social.” The changes have upset users and increased fears of diminishing privacy. Here’s what you know about the changes and what it means for you:
Connections and community pages
The change everyone seems to be noticing first are the connections that are revamping people’s profile sections. Facebook gives you two options: either link the information you’ve already listed for current city, hometown, education, work and interests, or leave those sections blank. If you chose to link, those interests get connected with pages to indicate that you “like” it.
This linking was accompanied with the introduction of community pages. Community pages are based around topics and include Wikipedia information on the topic where available, in addition to what’s being said by your friends and by all Facebook users. They’re similar to the previous pages that people and businesses could create, which have stayed the same. (Check out The Daily Tar Heel’s official page and community page for an example of the differences between the two types of pages). The major difference between an official and community page is that community pages won’t generate updates in your News Feed.
What the change means: Any page you connect to is by default public to all users, regardless of any previous privacy settings you have established. You can restrict whether the pages show up in your profile, but anyone who visits or is connected to the page themselves can see that you have “liked” the page. In response to this, many users have chosen to leave their profile interests blank. You can use the “Bio” section of your profile to describe yourself in free-form instead.
Why people are concerned: Facebook isn’t giving users much of a choice. You either opt in and accept that your connections will be universally public, or you opt out, leaving your profile blank.
More on the change: Facebook’s Help Center FAQ on community pages and profile connections
Instant personalization and social plugins
You’ve probably seen the effect of these changes when browsing almost any major website (Facebook says 50,000 have already been installed). Both instant personalization and social plugins are designed to extend the Facebook experience and make it easier to connect interests across a variety of programs.
Social plugins come in the form of “like” buttons, feeds that show what your friends are up to and ways to comment directly to your Facebook Wall, all from a third-party website. You must be logged in to see the recommendations, and you’ll be prompted to log-in if you’re not. With Facebook’s instant personalization program, any visits to Microsoft Docs.com, Pandora or Yelp are personalized based on your public Facebook information (you can opt out by updating your privacy settings on Facebook).
What the change means: It’s easier to share what you’re reading and looking at with your Facebook friends, and it’s easier to get recommendations from your friends by seeing what they’re up to as well.
Why people are concerned: None of your profile information or data is shared with the third-party sites, but Facebook is able to see what websites you’re visiting and what articles you’re reading. Like with connections, any privacy settings you establish only apply to your Facebook profile. So clicking a “like” or “recommend” button on a website is public to anyone.
More on the change: Facebook’s FAQ on personalized web tools
Note: This post was originally written for Daily Tar Heel readers.