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Is Facebook’s Application Dashboard Missing a Privacy Gauge?

Chris Conley,
Policy Attorney,
ACLU of Northern California Technology and Civil Liberties Project
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February 8, 2010

Facebook is once again rolling out changes to its user interface, including new Applications and Games Dashboards that it says will “mak[e] it easier for you to find and interact with applications.” And, once again, these changes affect your privacy: now other users can easily find out which applications you use, whether that’s a popular game, a dating app, or our Facebook quiz. Just like the changes that made Friends Lists and Fan Pages part of your “Publicly Available Information” (PAI) that could not be restricted or made private in any way (though Facebook later relented and allowed you to hide your Friends List on your profile—but only if you hide it from everyone!), this takes information that was hard to find and puts it front and center.

Facebook does seem to have learned something from the many criticisms of its recent privacy transition. There are two notable improvements in the Applications and Games Dashboard as compared to that debacle: (1) Facebook has actually created a privacy setting at the bottom of the Applications and Websites that controls who can see your Application and Games activities, and (2) it has set this to “only friends” by default.

We’ve talked quite a bit about the importance of default privacy settings, and as those go, “only friends” is certainly an improvement from defaulting this setting to “everyone” (or, worse, making it PAI that cannot be restricted). But even this setting is more permissive than the previous situation, when no one could easily find out which applications you used—and apart from a paragraph at the bottom of a blog post that few readers may see, Facebook has done very little to advertise the consequences of this change or the availability of new settings (one of the few things we praised during the last Facebook overhaul).

To change your own settings, go to the Applications and Websites privacy page and use the bottom control for “Activity on Applications and Games Dashboard.” You can choose one of the basic options, or the “Custom” option that allows you to share this information with only selected friends, to block certain friends from seeing this information, or to let nobody else see it at all.

Real control over information means giving people the information they need to make choices about what information to share before they share, not making changes and then allowing those who realize the implications to opt out. We hope Facebook will continue to work towards giving users this kind of control over their personal information so they can connect and communication without paying with their privacy.

Please join us and the Demand Your dotRights campaign as we continue to push companies to give us more control over our own information! You can help by signing our petition demanding that Facebook give you better control over your own information. Demand a privacy upgrade—Demand Your dotRights!