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Opacity in Default Privacy Settings

posted Sep 28, 2010, 12:55 PM by Jamie Chomas   [ updated Oct 7, 2010, 10:02 AM ]

From social networking, to search, to e-commerce, the web is full of default user settings. If left alone, Facebook shares your bio and posts with the world, Google stores your web behavior, and businesses register you for their online marketing blasts. Default settings are set at their most open and require user manipulation to close the curtain on privacy. That the default settings are set to optimize a company’s data gathering and marketing efforts is expected; the ethical challenge stems from the opacity of these controls. Default settings and unsubscribe functions are often hard to find and circuitous to navigate.

According to a Fast Company article referenced below, “Facebook estimates that only 15% to 20% of users take the time to adjust the privacy settings.” Are people unaware of the option to alter defaults? Are the defaults hard to find? As privacy comes to the forefront of news coverage, companies like Google and Facebook have moved to improve privacy options. Google launched its Dashboard of privacy settings last November; although I use Google, Gmail and other G-products daily, I only just learned of this feature last week.

Is it a company’s responsibility to offer privacy controls as a transparent and user-friendly feature, or is it up to the customer to engage with the web on the defensive?

new developments from Facebook on 10/7/10: