Facebook Reduces Its Privacy Options (Again)

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Yesterday, Facebook announced that users who've asked for their timelines to be unsearchable will now searchable. 

Facebook already removed the ability to sign up for the feature awhile back, but people who'd previously opted to were allowed to stay off the publicly searchable directory. No longer. Facebook says the change only effects a small percentage of users, but since billions of over a billion people use Facebook, a small percentage of users is probably equal to about one city full of humans. 

Most people won't notice. Some of those who do will be upset. It never feels good when a tech company takes back more of the blanket. But the practical implications of this aren't enormous.

If you're a celebrity who wants to use Facebook as a non-self-promoting civilian, your life just got slightly more cumbersome. If you're a non-celebrity who liked using Facebook while maintaining a modicum of privacy, well, you're down to about a half a modicum.* 

On Twitter, social media theorist Nathan Jurgenson put it nicely. He said he didn't much mind the change because it just made Facebook more of what Facebook is. A non-private place:

Facebook is a phonebook of front lawns. You can find almost anyone there, but all you'll see is their public face. Pictures of vacations and restaurant meals and 5k's, news about promotions. Everyone on my Facebook is getting engaged, but no one ever gets divorced. You see sadness, but the acceptable kind, like public disease and the deaths of relatives. If you want to share something more honest, or more dark, or less palatable, there are better places.

Right here is where I wanted to write a paragraph placing every single social media platform on a continuum of public or private, but I realized those aren't universal values. It depends on how you use them. Some people have private Twitter accounts where they vent about their jobs or their families. I try to keep Company Holiday Party levels of decorum. But there's never one right way. Even a service like Snapchat, which at first glance seems built for whispering, often gets used as a place not to broadcast: "Hey! Friends! Here's 8 seconds of my life, in grainy video!"

The companies decide the rules, and we decide how to break them, and when they change the rules the dance starts over. On OTM, we used to wonder when Facebook would end, and what would replace it. But now I'm learning that platforms adapt and people adapt, and we're left with a range of ways to speak to each other. It's actually not too bad.











*If I'm missing a third category of person who this inconveniences, someone for whom this privacy change will be more dire, please let me know in the comments or on Twitter. I bet there's someone (maybe an activist?) for whom this will matter in a way that I'm just not imagining. 

Update: 12:37PM Oh, right, so here's the boneheaded omission I made: victims of abuse or stalking could be more at risk under the new system.

Thanks to Mary Mazzocoo on Facebook and Skenatron on Twitter for pointing this out. Making everyone searchable certainly makes it much easier for a creep or abuser to find someone on Facebook. That's a shame. Maybe using Facebook pseudonymously, or signing off it entirely, is the modern equivalent of the unlisted number.