Friday, June 26, 2009

Facebook Tightens Privacy Controls

A beta version of Facebook's publisher gives users more control over who can see their content. The move is meant to improve security and privacy on the social networking site.

Facebook is testing out granular privacy controls for its users that will allow them to exercise more control over who sees published content.

Just recently, Facebook made a beta version of its publisher available to some of its users that allows them to configure the settings for who can view their information. The new capabilities allow users to configure settings to display certain content to just their confirmed friends, their friends and members of networks they belong to, "Friends of Friends" or everyone.

The new settings are an attempt by Facebook to improve privacy and increase security, and to address complaints by users that they could not control who could see their status updates.

You may have some posts you want to share with a wide audience, such as whom you voted for or how great the weather is today," blogged Facebook engineer Olaoluwa Okelola. "Other times you may have more personal updates like your new phone number or an invitation to join you at your favorite restaurant for dinner that are meant for only close or nearby friends."

Forrester Research analyst Chenxi Wang agreed that the settings add a needed level of privacy for the average user.

"I've got personal friends on Facebook and also business associates," Wang said. "These days I give a talk at a conference and afterwards I'd get three or four Facebook friend requests from audience members, people I don't really know. I'd very much like a private profile and a public profile to differentiate between inner circles and other, more loosely connected, individuals. And this new settings would allow me to do that, which is great."

When it comes to enterprise IT security, the new privacy controls may not do much to assuage concerns about social networking by employees. However, limiting the amount of public information out there may make the social engineering aspect of phishing trickier for attackers.

"From an enterprise's standpoint, one potential implication is that since there will be less private information out there, phishing attacks via Facebook will be more difficult," she said. "That's good news for enterprises. But on the flip side, it's more difficult for HR folks to do Facebook background checks, which is a downside."

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