Compliance Management, Privacy, Threat Management

Facebook evolves options for its privacy settings

As one of the fastest growing social networking sites, with an estimated 200 million users, Facebook has come under some criticism for the access control settings of its portal. Some users complained that they had limited options when it came to controlling who could view their "Status Updates," the site's continually updated message board, and to whom they could push their messages out.

Though the site has options for privacy settings available, this week the site launched a new iteration that makes it easier for users to customize their privacy settings as they send out content. This option is available at the moment only to a small percentage of active users with settings configured so as to be visible to “Everyone.”

The beta roll-out of privacy controls will be available on “Publisher,” a panel viewable once logged in at the top of users' home and profile pages. This is where users add content, such as photos, videos or their text-based status updates. With these new settings, users will be able to grant access, depending on their selection, to everyone, specific groups or one individual.

With a mix of family, social and professional connections tethered together, Facebook users previously faced the dilemma of who exactly is among their audience. Content appropriate for one group of close friends, i.e., exploits of a night on the town, might not be suitable for cousins or work buddies checking in to the site.

When posting content via the Publisher tool, users will now have access to a lock icon in the lower-right corner of the panel that launches a drop-down menu. Using this, they can select various options to gain more control over to whom they communicate their personal journalism.

However, whether Facebook's improvements to its privacy options will be enough to make IT administrators within the enterprise comfortable is up for debate.

“With the advent of social media and networking services, security and privacy became a bigger issue, essentially opening new holes and windows for cybercriminals to prey on consumers,” Shawn Eldridge, vice president, marketing and products, BorderWare, told in an email on Thursday. “Facebook's recent announcement about new privacy measures is a great first step. However, there is no silver bullet to all security woes and in order to be truly effective, the company will need to continue to evolve with a comprehensive approach, including data loss prevention policies that meet their internal privacy and compliance standards.”

But, he said, this move signals that Facebook has moved from just a social tool to one that has business uses and power beyond its original purpose. In fact, Facebook's new privacy features should enable organizations that have previously banned the service on company machines to consider allowing certain measures of usage, Eldridge said.

With a caveat, however. It doesn't necessarily mean the service is completely safe and consumers/organizations can stop being vigilant, he said.

Others say that by customizing its interface to now enable targeted messaging, the move is an attempt by Facebook to broaden its reach to the entire internet and to entice more users who use other networking sites for social interaction, like MySpace, and networking sites for business purposes, such as LinkedIn. It also faces tough competition from Twitter, the microblogging site that enables users to push out their brief messages in real time to everyone.

"Facebook seems to be taking a step in the right direction to do its part, but will continue to need to be vigilant and move with the changing times,” Eldridge said.

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