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Facebook's New Privacy Settings: 5 Things You Should Know

New settings are supposed to make it easier to control your information, but they're not always as clear as they should be

By Ian Paul, PC World
December 10, 2009 12:21 PM ET

PC World - Facebook has begun rolling out its new privacy settings to all of its 350 million users. If you haven't seen it already, you will soon have to go through a wizard that will guide you through the process of confirming your privacy settings.

The new settings are supposed to make it easier and simpler to control your information, but the changes are drawing a mix of criticism and praise from privacy watchdogs such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU), and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

The new privacy controls include some great changes, and some not-so-great changes, but here are five privacy issues you should know about as these settings roll out across Facebook.

Search Settings

When I checked my search settings this morning, the option to index my profile by public search engines had been turned on. This is despite the fact that I had explicitly turned off this setting when Facebook launched public search listings two years ago. If you don't want search engines like Google and Bing to index your profile, do yourself a favor and make sure those settings are still set the way you want them to be. To adjust your search privacy settings click on Settings>Privacy Settings>Search. If the "Allow indexing" box is checked then search engines will be able to index your information.

Password Protection Layer: Not So Good

Facebook has added a new layer of protection for changing your privacy settings. Under the new policy you will have to enter your password whenever you want to change your privacy settings. This is a smart move, and quite a common policy with other Web services.

But in my tests, this extra protection did not work very well at all. Once I had chosen to exclude my Facebook profile from public search engines, I left my privacy settings page and returned to my profile (your settings are saved automatically). But when I went back to my privacy settings, the pages were wide open with no password requirement. I tested this out on several browsers and operating systems, I also signed out and back in several times to see if that would change anything. But each time I checked my security settings were wide open. The password protection eventually came back after half an hour or so, but that was far too long. The password requirement should come back automatically or Facebook should be telling you that this setting is set to time out.

PAI Changes

Facebook is also changing what it deems to be publicly available information (PAI), with almost no recourse for the user to control this--a change that does not sit well with the EFF. Information under the PAI umbrella includes your profile picture, friends list (Facebook says the view friends link has been removed from search results), fan pages, gender, geographic region, and networks (school, work, etc.). There is almost no recourse to protect any of this information. To illustrate how important this setting could be, the EFF points out that you may belong to a fan page that supports or condemns gay marriage. Since this is such a controversial issue, that may be a position you are not willing to share with co-workers, fellow church members, or other Facebook friends.

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