Further Facebook changes bring fresh criticism over user privacy as it closes the Lite version of its site

News by Dan Raywood

Facebook has come under fresh criticism after changing its user settings once again.

Facebook has come under fresh criticism after changing its user settings once again.

Writing on the Facebook blog on Monday, Facebook software engineer Alex Li confirmed that two new features have been added to link user profiles to pages about their interests, affiliations and favourite activities.

Community pages have been added and are ‘dedicated to a topic or experience that is owned collectively by the community connected to it'. Li confirmed that these pages are still in beta, but its ‘long-term goal is to make them the best collection of shared knowledge on a topic'.

He said: “We're starting by showing Wikipedia information, but we're also looking for people who are passionate about any of these topics to sign up to contribute to the page. We'll let you know when we're ready for your help.”

Also, user's interests are now connected to their profile to include their current city, hometown, education and work and likes and interests, and will contain ‘connections'. Li said: “Instead of just boring text, these connections are actually pages, so your profile will become immediately more connected to the places, things and experiences that matter to you.”

However these changes have been criticised for further reducing user's control over personal information. Writing on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website, senior staff attorney, Kurt Opsahl claimed that Facebook has removed its users' ability to control who can see their own interests and personal information.

He pointed at the parts of users profiles, such as their location, school and work, that will now be transformed into ‘connections', meaning that they will be shared publicly. He said: “If you don't want these parts of your profile to be made public, your only option is to delete them.

“The example Facebook uses in its announcement is a page for ‘cooking'. Previously, you could list ‘cooking' as an activity you liked on your profile, but your name would not be added to any formal ‘cooking' page. (Under the old system, you could become a ‘fan' of cooking if you wanted). But now, the new cooking page will publicly display all of the millions of people who list cooking as an activity.”

He said that cooking is not very controversial or privacy-sensitive, and thus makes for a good example from Facebook's perspective, but the changes will also create public lists for controversial issues, such as an interest in abortion rights, gay marriage, marijuana, tea parties and so on.

He said: “But even for an innocuous interest like cooking, it's not clear how this change is meant to benefit Facebook's users. An ordinary human is not going to look through the list of Facebook's millions of cooking fans. It's far too large. Only data miners and targeted advertisers have the time and inclination to delve that deeply.

“The new connections features benefit Facebook and its business partners, with little benefit to you. But what are you going to do about it? Facebook has consistently ignored demands from its users to create an easy ‘exit plan' for migrating their personal data to another social networking website, even as it has continued — one small privacy policy update after another — to reduce its users' control over their information.”

A protest page against recent Facebook pages has been established named ‘Our privacy matters right here', with 875 people ‘liking' it at the time of writing. However a web link at www.privacymatters.org.uk was not working.

Meanwhile Facebook has closed the Lite version of its site after it was open for around seven months. Intended as a simplified version of the site which was ‘optimised for people with slow connections, blogger Nick O'Neill, writing on the allfacebook.com blog site, believed that not enough people were using it. He claimed that many of the people he knew that were using the site were users with fast connections who liked a slimmed version of the site.

Facebook said: “Thanks to everyone who tried out Facebook Lite. We're no longer supporting it, but learned a lot from the test of a slimmed-down site.”

However many people who commented were disappointed with the closure, one said: “It was the only way some Fortune 500 companies would allow their employees to access Facebook. That's cutting off well over a million users with one blow. Nice job Facebook!” Meanwhile many claimed that Lite was excellent compared to the full version.


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