Sunday, 19 August 2007

Facebook privacy improvement

The question of "what to share about yourself on the net" is always an interesting one. How do you restrict access so that your friends may easily access your information without hassle yet certain outsiders are blocked from stalking you?

In the blogging times, before Facebook (I'll use FB for short) came into the scene, if I wanted to restrict access I have to verify the reader. That usually means they must log in to see my blog. For example, if I have a private blog on blogger, the people who I invite to be my audience explicitly must apply for membership at blogger so they can log in to see my blog. I think for people who already have a gmail account this is all simple but for my friends who don't have a gmail account this is more hassle. Could there be a better way? Would you be willing to apply for a user name and password just to see a blog?

Now that Facebook exists, I was using its "Notes" function. Now the issue or privacy came up. Nowadays a "friend" on your FB could range anywhere from a drinking buddy you met at a bar to your boss at work. However, you do not want to share the same information with each person, but it seems in FB there's no easy way of doing it. I couldn't think of a way to restrict the people seeing my notes other than friends/non-friends.

It would be great if FB allows for greater privacy control. Perhaps I can rank my friends by closeness from 1 to 4. 1 being most intimate and 4 being the least. Then whenever I want to place restrictions I can just select up to which "grade" of friends I want to allow it. So for example, if I choose 3 then all friends in grade 1, 2, and 3 can see it.

Another solution I can think of that's more dynamic would be "tagging your friends" and put them into a category much like the group contact used in our email software. For example, I can tag my brother as "Family" and my friends from university as "University friends". That way when I want to have an event for my family members I'd just invite the whole group. Even if I just want to invite part of the family, it's easier to select from individuals from the "family" group rather than selecting from all your facebook friends.

To extend this idea further, it'd be nice if we can have subgroups. For example, the people you met in university might be classmates or professors. Then, we can have two subgroups under the group "university friends". We can call them "university classmates" and "university profs". This would be useful for people who's got hundreds of contacts.

Maybe we can have a marriage of the first idea and the second idea. Then we can look for something like: the group of friends who I met in university and who also is of grade 3 closeness to me. lol Maybe I'm going a little overboard.

Facebook already has the "friends detail" dialog where you describe how you connected with your friends. Maybe this can help out automatic categorization....

Either way, my goal is to keep my information open but also under control. I hope that in the future my friends can easily access my information. Other than what's described above for control from the controller's point of view, there should be something done for my audience as well. They should be able to just sign in at one account somewhere and wouldn't have to sign in to a bunch of other places in order to see information I meant for them to see. Currently every time I turn on my computer I've got to sign on to at least 4 accounts. It would be great if there's single sign on or some sort of central identity keeper so you wouldn't need to sign on all the time.

Just some thoughts.

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