Facebook Wants to Steal Your Friends

Facebook's new "privacy" settings are even more nefarious than they first appeared: The social network has formally nationalized your friends list, like some Cuban sugar plantation, and published it to people who hate you. You have no choice.

That's because the social network has codified this new state of affairs right there into its written "Privacy Policy." A comparison of the new and old policies reveals this addition:

Certain categories of information such as your name, profile photo, list of friends and pages you are a fan of, gender, geographic region, and networks you belong to are considered publicly available to everyone, including Facebook-enhanced applications, and therefore do not have privacy settings. You can, however, limit the ability of others to find this information through search using your search privacy settings.

Facebook users have just begun to realize this is happening. Reuters' aggressive financial columnist Felix Salmon took note of this exciting new "privacy" feature when his critics on an investor website published a list of his Facebook friends, presumably for hate-mailing. Former Gawker editor Doree Shafrir blogged this morning about how her once-hidden friends, network and fan-page subscriptions have suddenly been published.

I've now set my privacy settings so that only friends can search me [and find out you're a fan of Howard Kurtz! Oy! -Ed.]…which seems sort of counterproductive to the whole enterprise, doesn't it?

Indeed it does, and it's scant protection: Shafrir's friends are still listed to strangers on her profile page, if you can find it. There's a way to turn this off, too, according to Salmon (see update to his column), but anyone who shares a friend with you will still be able to see all your friends (I'm looking at Salmon's now, and we're not friends).

Really, as gossip bloggers, we at Gawker should be happy about all this; it certainly makes it easier to hunt down people willing to confirm gossip about their acquaintances. And it's satisfying to have our conspiracy theories confirmed — and quoted by civil libertarians at the Electronic Frontier Foundation who, along with the ACLU, have raised serious objections these "privacy" changes.

But there's something maddening about watching Facebook bumble its way into another privacy debacle, one approaching in its disastrousness the launch of the Beacon advertising/stalking system a few years back. If only Facebook's investors agreed. But then they're not exactly a pack of civil liberties advocates, now are they?

(Top pic: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, by Simon Doggett)