For Facebook, More Privacy Means More Public

Only 15-20 percent of Facebook’s 350 million users have ever modified their privacy settings, the company said. As the site today revises its privacy settings to pop up every single time a user posts an item, that portion will surely go up. But Facebook won’t be any more private. In fact, unless a user has ever changed a setting or does so now, most everything for those ages 18 and up is now set to be visible by everyone. That doesn’t mean everyone on Facebook — rather everyone on the Internet.

For instance, user status updates — Facebook’s equivalent of Twitter — used to by default only be shown to users’ friends and networks. Now they will by default be visible to everyone. Same goes for each person’s photos, videos, notes and links.

Facebook said, as always, it hopes the changes will inspire more sharing — though some people may use the settings to share with smaller groups. Users can now choose to share any one item with their friends, friends of friends, everyone, or a custom setting (eliminating the previous option of regional networks). The site recommends people limit access to personal information, such as their birthday and phone number, and makes updates by those who are under 18 automatically unavailable to the public.

Still, the reason so few users participated in privacy settings in the past was not just because they were hidden on a settings page. Thinking about privacy in an outward way is just awkward. It’s a necessary part of living our lives on the web, but that doesn’t make it feel natural. I think we can safely say that the majority of Facebook users will continue to use the default, meaning they will be sharing more publicly, not less.

Meanwhile, people’s Facebook identities, privacy settings and all, are increasingly becoming the way they participate on the web. The company also said today that 60 million of its users utilize Facebook Connect each month on more than 80,000 web sites, one year after launch. One of the key features of Facebook Connect is that it publishes users’ activity on outside sites as an update to their Facebook streams. Taken together with the new privacy settings, that’s a ton of information becoming public every day — and growing.

Please see the disclosure regarding Facebook on my bio page.