As part of Facebook’s privacy changes yesterday, the company made users’ friends publicly available. While there was an option to hide your friends completely from any users who was logged in, that option did not also allow users to remove their friend lists from being publicly available.
Now, based on heavy media scrutiny and what appear to be a a lot of user complaints, Facebook is changing the functionality of the hide feature to also hide friends from people who are not logged in.
The feature otherwise works the same as before. Go to your profile page, click on the blue pencil icon at the top of your friends box list, and de-select the checkbox that says “show my friends on my profile.”
There are larger questions here about Facebook’s decision yesterday. While the privacy changes were a relatively aggressive move to make users’ data more publicly accessible, the main method for doing that was through having each user go through “wizard,” or interface where they could choose to leave their settings as is or choose to make them available to everyone.
Another other part of Facebook’s changes — to make some profile information unavoidably public, including friends lists — came across as misleading. While logged-out viewers see excerpts of users friends, anybody could theoretically refresh that page and eventually see all of a person’s friends. That possibility has been removed for users who choose to hide friends.
So why did Facebook show friends lists in public? The company hasn’t said, but one reason might be to make it easier for new users to see friends they have in common with someone they find through a search result. Another reason might be to increase the search engine rankings of users by cross-linking user profiles.
However, there is still a caveat. Friends lists are still accessible, and here’s how: if one of your friends adds an application, they are providing that application with data showing that they are friends with you, as well as friends with everyone else on their list.
More from the Facebook blog:
UPDATE on Thursday, Dec. 10: In response to your feedback, we’ve improved the Friend List visibility option described below. Now when you uncheck the “Show my friends on my profile” option in the Friends box on your profile, your Friend List won’t appear on your profile regardless of whether people are viewing it while logged into Facebook or logged out. This information is still publicly available, however, and can be accessed by applications. Thanks again for your comments and suggestions.
We’ve also posted a third tutorial about the new privacy controls here. This video explains how to use the privacy control in the Publisher, the box where you publish status content such as updates, photos, videos and links.