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Facebook makes privacy controls much simpler

Last night Facebook launched their Shared Activity plugin makes it much easier to control which of your activities on Facebook-connected third party sites show up in your Facebook feed. It’s a one click process that runs on the third party site so you don’t have to go back to Facebook at all. Venturebeat has this description of how it works:

Imagine you’re browsing around your favorite news site, ILoveBieber.com. You’ve previously logged into the site using your Facebook profile, because once you’re logged in, you get to play social games with Justin Bieber themes, and how fun is that? But you’re not sure you want everyone on your Facebook friends list to see your activity, so you check the site’s Shared Activity plug-in, which is already hovering in the bottom left corner of the screen, nice and obvious, and you click “No one” on the drop-down menu of groups to share with.

As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of social media in general and Facebook in particular. Aside from their bungled IPO I think they’ve had a very positive influence on the world. By giving everyone a voice they’ve increased transparency and accountability right across society making values like integrity and commitment to quality more important and reducing the value of spin.

It hasn’t been all roses though, and the number one criticism of Facebook as a product that it doesn’t adequately address people’s privacy concerns. The main thing people are worried about is other people seeing what they’ve been doing online and this plugin addresses that concern head on.

If you’ve been watching Facebook over the years you might well be noting that this is the first time they’ve deliberately made it easy for people to restrict the amount of information they share. One explanation for the change is that this move makes it more difficult for potential competitors who would need to match Facebook for privacy, which would mean less sharing and hence a harder time getting to critical mass. Getting to scale and then changing the rules of the game so others can’t copy you is a smart play. Another explanation is that they think the PR benefits from being privacy friendly will outweigh the negative of reduced traffic that will inevitably follow reduced sharing. The final explanation is that they have done this because they think their users want it. This would be nice to believe, but runs counter to behaviour we’ve seen from Zuck and co in the past.