Throughout its short history, Facebook has encountered flare-ups over its users’ privacy. People have complained about their wall posts being published for all (their friends) to see in the then-new News Feed. There's been moaning about brands promoting to their friends that they like brand X (info those friends would already be able to see).
And now, the latest privacy issue pits Facebook’s privacy settings against its CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s own sister—and former Facebook marketing director—Randi Zuckerberg.
Here’s what happened late Tuesday night, per Buzzfeed which has recorded the situation since primary documents were trashed. Vox Media director of marketing and projects Callie Schweitzer saw a photo of Zuckberberg in her Facebook News Feed. She thought it fun/humanizing/public and tweeted it. Zuckerberg thought that think was NOT funny/humanizing/public and asked Schweitzer to delete the tweet. Schweitzer did, but not before Buzzfeed’s documentation.
So how did this happen? According to one of Schweitzer’s tweets, she is one of the 1.4 million people who subscribe to Zuckerberg on Facebook, which means any of Zuckerberg’s public posts gets pushed to Schweitzer’s News Feed. After seeing the photo in her feed, Schweitzer figured it was public and cross-posted it to Twitter, an arguably even more public arena than Facebook. However, according to Zuckerberg, Schweitzer is Facebook friends with someone tagged in the photo alongside Zuckerberg, which is how the photo ended up in Schweitzer’s News Feed.
The whole thing could have been clamped down by changes Facebook is rolling out to users privacy settings. When the company announced those changes a few weeks ago, Facebook’s manager of privacy and public policy Rob Sherman pointed out that photos are “a key thing we want to encourage people to manage.”
Those changes include the ability for users to view their photos in segments, such as those only friends can see and those only friends and their friends can see. In Zuckerberg’s case, it seems her photo was designated in the latter segment, which is why Schweitzer was able to see it. While Facebook is making it easier to manage existing content, managing at the point of creation is still a hassle. For Zuckerberg to upload the photo and tag others in it without those people's Facebook friends also seeing the photo, she would have had to create a custom privacy setting that unchecks the ability for "friends of those tagged" to see the post. Those tagged folks could still have shared the photo to their friends after the fact, at which point Zuckerberg would need to use Facebook's new privacy controls to request that they remove the photo.
Of course managing Facebook content ex post facto won’t help contain it once it’s out in the wild, i.e., outside Facebook, e.g., on Twitter or Buzzfeed. That gets into a whole other discussion around who owns social content, something that Facebook-owned photo-sharing service Instagram had to deal with last week.
While no mechanisms seem to exist on any of the major social networks that can curtail those who see a post from cross-posting it elsewhere (even if only through a screenshot), Zuckerberg used the most recent occasion to prescribe some manners.
Digital etiquette: always ask permission before posting a friend's photo publicly. It's not about privacy settings, it's about human decency
— Randi Zuckerberg (@randizuckerberg) December 26, 2012