Are Granular Privacy Controls Too Complicated For Users?

Yesterday while answering questions from reporters, Mark Zuckerberg made it fairly clear that users will soon be able to decide whether or not information they share is public or private. Currently on Facebook, “public” for most items means to display information among your friends and in the rare instance information among your network and even sometimes to Google.

Managing your privacy controls is already a relatively complex process. Just last month I wrote a guide to managing your privacy on Facebook. More than half a million people have viewed that guide and thousands of people continue to view it daily. It has also become the most bookmarked item on Delicious for the past 30 days.
While I didn’t expect the article to be so popular, the popularity of the article highlights one thing in particular: most people don’t understand how to manage their Facebook privacy settings. This is a huge problem for Facebook because as I previously wrote, Facebook presents a “facade of privacy” when you register for the site. There’s an unwritten agreement with Facebook when you join the site in which most users assume that what goes on the site, stays within the site.
That’s why we often see users that are surprised when they get fired for items they’ve posted on the site. The reality is that for the most part, nothing that we post on the web is truly private yet Facebook is determined to suggest that some of what we post is. Facebook’s fundamental belief is that users should be able to control what is visible to the public and who within their social graph can see specific information.
Contrast Facebook’s concept with Twitter which turns privacy into a light switch for users, it is simply on or off. While Twitter has perhaps oversimplified the way we fundamentally view privacy, they’ve made it easy for users to manage. At some point over the past couple weeks, I argued that Facebook’s complex privacy system may be its greatest weakness.
In a world which is moving toward the elimination of privacy online, is Facebook just standing in the way of the inevitable? Mark Zuckerberg has emphasized that transition that’s taking place but at the end of the day I feel like we become the human forms of routers, switching packets of information between private, public, and semi-private routes. Can users truly manage this complex thing called granular privacy?



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