Posted by: Staff | 03.20.2008

Facebook preps new privacy, chat, and application features

TOPH TUCKER ?08

Early Wednesday morning, Facebook rolled out a new set of comprehensive privacy features. Members can now create ?friend lists? and control how much information the people on each list may access. For instance, a person may create a ?School? list and a ?Family? list in order to display school-related photo albums only to school friends, and family-related photo albums only to family friends. In fact, users can even control what individual friends see, making it possible to create, for instance, albums that everyone except a single person can see.

For years, Facebook has had some of the most comprehensive privacy features of any site on the web. For a service that hosts such a wealth of information about its users, that level of control is necessary for users to remain comfortable. Yet as the privacy page continues to expand, Facebook runs the risk of making settings too daunting, discouraging users from delving into them at all.

Upon clicking ?privacy? in the upper-right corner of the page, users are presented with four options: Profile, Search, News Feed and Mini-Feed, and Applications. Some categories contain multiple tabs, sometimes with close to a dozen subcategories on each tab. And each subcategory may present a whole pop-up full of options about exactly who may see exactly what. For instance, a user could go to the Profile privacy page, click on the Contact Information tab, look at the Current Address subcategory, select Customize from the drop-down menu, choose the ?Some Friends? bullet point, enter certain friends or friend lists, and then enter specific people to exclude and click ?Okay.? Going so deep is certainly not necessary, and the capability is certainly appreciated, but one still wonders at what point (if ever) people will be scared off.

Meanwhile, a Facebook-sponsored page presents information and screenshots of what profile pages of the future will look like. These screenshots depict the Wall being combined with the Mini-Feed, as well as each profile being separated into different tabs: Wall, About, Photos, etc. Facebook stresses that these developments are still in the early stages, and is open to user feedback. (To give your suggestions, email profilespreview@facebook.com.) And the company has recently confirmed reports that they are working on a ?Facebook Chat? application that will allow for instant messaging without leaving the site.

As Facebook continues to grow and bring more and more content into the site, some wonder whether it will return the favor by allowing for increased openness that might break down some of the walls currently surrounding the site. Such interoperability is in part facilitated by the Facebook API?allowing, for instance, desktop widgets to show a slideshow of your friends? photos?but other efforts to use data from Facebook on other sites have been shut down. Considering Facebook’s devotion to privacy, that?s understandable. But the question remains: how long can Facebook continue to absorb more and more features before it finds its domination contested by the open-er internet at large?

Sources:
MSNBC: Facebook adds privacy controls
Facebook Preview Page
Facebook Blog: More Privacy Options

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