Thank you Facebook for hosting this picture about youIt seems simple to me:  Facebook rolls out some interface changes before their f8 conference. Users always complain about interface changes, and they do.  Then at f8, Facebook announces some additional changes that aren’t yet rolled out, but will be soon. Compared to the first set, though, these are really game changers. But Facebook can calculate based on past behavior that:

  1. people will be in a period of backlash fatigue, from having just complained
  2. people will ignore the warnings of those who are continuing to be critical of Facebook’s new changes
  3. people will continue to use Facebook anyway, because those who stop doing so suffer from psychological disconnection withdrawl.

Besides interface changes, the change that has people most up in arms is the Ticker, the new Facebook side panel that shows what all of your Friends are doing in real time.  It even motivated a well-intentioned but effectively useless campaign to get your friends to unsubscribe to some of the things that you do. That, of course, was a backward approach, and I think it ended up disconnecting people who really still want to be connected to each other. (note: I briefly reposted the request, and now I think everyone I know is ignoring me :-))

The Ticker reaction is reminiscent of 2006 when Facebook first introduced the News Feed.  Suddenly things that your friends had posted on their walls were all put in one place for you to look at. This was all information you could see if you went to all their walls, so there was no change in privacy. But by feeding it to you all at once, people felt their privacy was violated. Nothing had changed, privacy-wise, it was the nature of the frictionless presentation that freaked everyone out.  Of course, now everyone is used to it and the News Feed remains people’s primary view into Facebook and the lives of their Friends.

The same reaction and underlying cause applies to the Ticker. What’s different is that the timing roughly coincides with Facebook’s change in posting defaults that means more things are by default posted for general public unless you change your settings. So even though the Ticker shows things that your friends are liking and commenting on in the wide open public space, seeing it aggregated drives that point home. So the problem isn’t really the ticker, it’s the fact that people aren’t always aware:

  1. When things they post are set to public
  2. (even worse so) When they are commenting on or liking someone’s public posts, so their comments and likes become public, too.

#2 is “even worse so” because when you like or comment on someone else’s post you can’t tell in advance what their settings for that post are. So you can’t make the informed choice of whether you want your comment to go to the wide world over.
Update: When you go to like or comment on a post, check for a tiny little icon on the line under the post that says “Like” and “Comment”. If the icon is of the world , it is a public post and your like/comment will be public. If it is an icon of two people , your like/comment will be among friends of the person doing the original post. A gear means they have it on a custom setting. I haven’t seen those in the wild yet, so not sure if you can see what they have it custom-set to. Probably not. The point remains that even when Facebook gives you finer tuned privacy control, they are not so usable or well-documented.

Timeline's View Activity allows you to see what you did in the past and change settings (With the Timeline’s View Activity feature, you’ll be able to see and set the privacy for everything you do, but as of today, I’m not seeing all my “Likes” show up on my Facebook log. The Timeline hasn’t rolled out yet, so I’m assuming they’ll fix that before general launch. Right?  And the Timeline still doesn’t have a search feature so you cannot easily find your past lapses in judgement.)

So what’s next? What changes are in store that Facebook feels they need to depend on backlash fatigue?  Gizmodo spells it out pretty well, so I’ll send you over to Unlike: Why Facebook Integration Is Actually Antisocial  The gist is that with Facebook being required now for a growing number of Internet services, and with privacy basically shut off for more and more of those, you’re getting to a point where Facebook collects not just everything you do on Facebook, but increasingly, everything you do on the Internet.