Facebook's privacy fixes can't cure stupid

Facebook deserves blame for messing with its privacy settings, but people will still embarrass themselves on the Internet

Facebook deserves plenty of blame for messing too much with its privacy settings, but no amount of fixing will stop people from embarrassing themselves on the Internet.

An interesting thing happened in the time since Facebook's privacy fiasco began: The debate moved away from the most recent changes to Facebook's privacy -- allowing select Web sites to automatically tell your Facebook friends what you've been doing on those sites -- and now focuses on changes that are almost six months old.

Suddenly, it seems, users are upset that Facebook wants status updates and friends lists shared with the world. By default, new Facebook users' profiles are set to "everyone," making life on the Internet an open book.

Enter, well, Openbook, the site that exposes just how much people expose on Facebook. PCWorld has covered this site before, making note of the too-much-information that (I hope) users think was kept private. NPR played a different trick, looking for status updates that reference new cell phone numbers and then calling the people who inadvertently broadcast their digits. Openbook supposedly shines a light on the effect of Facebook's privacy changes, but all it really does is show how people can't filter themselves.

There's no doubt that Facebook exacerbated the problem by pushing people towards public sharing of information, but it's a problem that existed long before December 9, when Facebook introduced sweeping changes to its privacy controls. A site called Lamebook, which tracks stupidity and hilarity on Facebook, started in 2008. Humorous lists of Facebook fails predate the changes from six months ago. Even if people keep information within their social circle, they can still make fools of themselves -- and to people that matter in real life, no less.

Later today, Facebook will introduce some privacy changes, giving people an easier way to control what information in their profiles is visible to the rest of the world. The changes may not address complaints about having to opt out of future privacy changes, and they may not provide the level of depth that the people most up in arms about privacy really want. But one thing the changes definitely will not do is make people smarter about what they publish on the Web.

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Jared Newman

PC World (US online)
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