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6/1/2010
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Facebook: Screw You, Privacy Hugger

As you know, Facebook recently overhauled its privacy controls -- or, well, overhauled the user interface to them. Upshot: Get over the privacy thing. But is that really what we want?

As you know, Facebook recently overhauled its privacy controls -- or, well, overhauled the user interface to them. Upshot: Get over the privacy thing. But is that really what we want?Facebook's take is that it has made material changes to make privacy restrictions easier to use. But while it's true certain elements of setting one's privacy on the vast social media network have changed, all of the underlying privacy models and business strategies have remained exactly as they were. In fact, Facebook sounds more entrenched in its indifference to privacy than ever.

A National Public Radio piece on the privacy control changes investigated Facebook users who had inadvertently placed information on display to the Internet and found that while they might not have been aware of how widely the information would be available, they weren't necessarily concerned about it. The NPR reporter used website Openbook.org to look for the phrase "my new cell phone number."

It's a great bit of radio. The reporter calls up a couple of inadvertent number posters. Here's the written summary from NPR:

Heidi Irbi in South Carolina was a little surprised that NPR was able to see her photo, her status update -- and her number. She thought that information went only to her Facebook "friends."

At the same time, Irbi says she doesn't really mind that her number went out to the rest of the world. Another woman whose number came up in the search, Judy Corley, was even less worried.

"I'm a gun-toting Texan, so I just don't have much concern about it," Corley says.

You have to love it: "I'm a gun-toting Texan..."

But note this, gun-toters: As far as I can tell, both the reporter and Heidi hung up the phone, logged in to Facebook, and changed their privacy settings. The Heidi Irbi in South Carolina who I can find doesn't share her status updates. None of the Corleys in Texas share theirs, either.

Ain't that peculiar.

I think most people (including these, according to the NPR piece) at least imagine they aren't handing over their personal information, as it were, lock, stock, and barrel. And that's not the default model Facebook uses, with or without the new user interface. More on the CSI view of privacy models here.

And one important omission from the NPR piece: If you search Openbook.org for "my new cell number," you'll find a lot more people saying "contact me for my new cell number" than you'll find people just throwing their cell numbers out into the world. How can that be if privacy is dead?

CSI Director Robert Richardson's new cell phone number is already far too widely distributed. Reach him via gocsi.com.

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