Facebook's new privacy settings and your business

Facebook's new privacy settings give users more control, and outside businesses less access, to your information.

Facebook announced Tuesday that it will be introducing a handful of privacy changes to their 750 million users. AllthingsD reports that the new privacy features will go into effect on August 25, initially to only one percent of all Facebook users.

Exactly how much the new settings are a response to longstanding user criticism or new competition in the form of Google+ is hard to discern. It does seem clear however, that without the new threat to Facebook, the company would have had little incentive to change its historically lax approach to user privacy.

The implications for businesses trying to connect on the platform are huge, as users now have a slew of new tools to control who sees what. Here is a breakdown of the changes:

1. You'll have a drop-down menu on the upper right hand side of your Facebook page where you can choose to display things like your hometown or latest photo album. All of these options had been accessible previously on your Settings page, but this makes it much easier and clearer to control.

2. You'll be able to tag non-friends or pages in pictures and statuses. This is one of the few potentially advantageous new features for businesses. For example, your company can be tagged by users who want to mention it but who haven't taken the time to officially "Like" it. Plus, tags now must be approved by users (see below).

3. Facebook will give you the option to verify or deny tagged photos of yourself. When you deny a tag, you'll have a several options. You can automatically remove the tag, request the photo be taken down, or block the user who tagged you.

4. Before you post a status update or picture, you'll be able to adjust exactly who sees it by selecting from Public, Friends or Custom options. Facebook is shifting to the term "public" instead of "everyone."

5. You'll be able to easily access the "View Profile As" button directly on your profile, whereas before it was hidden in Settings. This lets you see which parts of your profile are public or visible to your friends with just one click.

6. You'll be able to tag your location in any post. By contrast, before you only had the option to check into locations via Facebook mobile.

7. You'll be able to change who sees status updates directly when you post them.

Overall, some of these features have always been available under the Settings tab, but by localizing them next to the information in question, Facebook has shown it's ready to take privacy a little more seriously.

The hard reality for businesses looking to connect with people via social media is that it's only getting harder. That is, when users are given more controls over what they share and who they share it with, companies will have a harder time attracting attention. Of course, as Facebook shifts the way users protect and share their information, we may see changes on how they manage business profiles, as well.

Despite crowds of users flocking away from Facebook with the release of Google+, ComScore just reported that the company saw 162 million unique visitors in July, an 11 percent jump from the same period a year ago, when it had about 146 million such visits. Facebook is going strong but understands that it must react to Google+'s much more progressive privacy policies.

The entrance of Google+ signaled the first real competition to Facebook since the MySpace era. Previously, Facebook was more concerned with attracting business than scaring off users, because those users had nowhere to go. Facebook now understands that if they don't offer the privacy options users have come to expect from the likes of Google+, it doesn't matter how business-friendly it might be, because there will be no users left.

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Ilie Mitaru

PC World (US online)
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