[ATTACH=RIGHT]22094[/ATTACH]Facebook Vice-President Chris Cox has announced the latest in a seemingly never ending run of privacy updates for the worlds' biggest social network. The improvements can be summed up as tightening up the question most often asked by those users worried about their privacy, namely "who can see this?" Unless the users asking that question happen to be using an iPhone it would seem.
According to Cox the privacy updates, which will be rolled out to all users during the next few days, will make it "easier to share posts, photos, tags and other content with exactly the people you want." In order to accomplish this, Facebook is tweaking the user interface so as to move existing privacy option toggles from a settings page into an inline system. In other words, the privacy controls will be available at the point of content be that a posting, a photo or a tag.
Inline profile controls will show you, via a drop down menu, exactly who can currently see the part of your profile (photo album, home town etc) you are looking at and, importantly, enable the user to change this with a single click rather than having to navigate through a series of somewhat confusing settings pages. The controls for who can see your individual postings are also moving inline, with the use of icons and labels to make it clearer who those posts are being shared with as well providing the option to change those share settings right there on the spot.
Tagging has proved to be pretty controversial on the privacy front, and Facebook is seeking to mitigate this controversy a little by enabling users to approve or reject any photo or post in which they are tagged, before it becomes visible via the user profile page. Previously there was no such option and as soon as you were tagged then the photo you were tagged in would appear on your profile page. Similarly, whilst up until now anyone who had access to viewing your photos could add tags to them this is also changing and now the user will have the power to decide which tags to allow or reject.
Unfortunately, all is still not rosy in the Facebook privacy garden if, like so many people, you do much of your social networking on the move from your smartphone. Users of the iPhone and other smartphones will not be able to take advantage of these new inline privacy controls for the time being it would appear. Cox admits that users posting from a "phone or app that does not yet support inline controls" the settings will remain the same as they are today. How long it takes for apps to get support for inline controls remains to be seen.
Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at security outfit Sophos, doesn't think that the smartphone access issue is the only problem. "While there's a lot of good stuff here, with Facebook making efforts to simplify the way its privacy settings work, Facebook doesn't seem to have addressed the more fundamental privacy issues on the site" Cluley argues, concluding "Facebook still operates on an 'opt-out' basis when a new feature that may affect a user's personal information is introduced. Facebook should become truly 'opt-in', not just on the basis that a new user opts in by joining Facebook in the first place, but on the basis that features are turned off until users decide to activate them."