New settings open posts and profiles to more users

Social networking is quickly becoming one of the most important and commonly used services online. Millions of users flock to social networks each day to keep in touch and drum up business for companies. One of the largest of the social networks in the world is Facebook.

This week Facebook has announced significant changes to its privacy settings. The crux of the changes will have users opening their profiles up to many more users than they are open to today. The changes in the privacy policy allow more indexing by major search engines like Google and Yahoo to allow the postings and profiles of Facebook users to be placed onto search engines.

The changes showed up on Wednesday and users were greeted with a page that sent them to the privacy settings page. The update now requires the user to show their gender and the city they live in on their profile page that is publicly viewable. Facebook says that anyone not wanting to share that data needs to leave those fields blank in their profile.

The new privacy settings will allow the user to send their posts to all Facebook viewers rather than friend lists and will allow the posts to be sent across the internet for other users to find. The push for this from Facebook's prospective is to gain more traffic to better compete with the growing threat from Twitter where all posts are indexed and searchable online. Facebook is recommending that all users elect to have their posts viewable by all users and if they want to keep their old privacy settings, the user has to choose to specifically retain the old settings.

Marc Rotenberg from the Electronic Privacy Information Center said, "Facebook is nudging the settings toward the 'disclose everything' position. That's not fair from the privacy perspective."

Facebook's Barry Schnitt also points out that the new privacy features ask a user with each post they make who they want to be able to see it making the new privacy settings less relevant.

Schnitt said, "Any suggestion that we're trying to trick them [Facebook users] into something would work against any goal that we have."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation evaluated the privacy changes and said, "These new 'privacy' changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data."

In October, Facebook was named the largest social network in the U.S. pushing former top site MySpace down into the second spot. Facebook grew 194% compared to its number of users in September and the site boasted 300 million users in October.

Facebook makes money from ads that are shown on its pages to users. The company announced in September that it would be sharing its ad data with metrics firm Nielsen. The move was to allow data on the effectiveness of its ads to be provided to advertisers via a third-party.

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
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