Facebook Privacy Then and Now

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Matt McKeon, a developer with the Visual Communications Lab at IBM Research’s Center for Social Software, shows how Facebook privacy has, ahem, evolved over time.

His interactive graphic illustrates the systematic opening up of user information since 2005. With each click along the timeline, it’s easy to remember the outcry from privacy-loving users every time Facebook made a (sometimes questionably unexplained) change. Part of the backlash against Facebook comes because users, especially those who signed up early on, were of the mindset that their “likes,” photos, wall posts, networks, name and gender were private information that would only be shared with whomever they deemed to be a friend. But that hasn’t always proved to be the case. Facebook’s been on the front line of the (big, bad, identity destroying) Internet. When it comes down to it, if users want to be sure something is only shared with their actual friends, an email blast or an old-fashioned phone call might be more apt.

But there is one exception to the Facebook’s privacy pushback: birthdays. In fact, birth dates are the only area depicted on McKeon’s graphic that have not been opened up to the entire Internet or even Facebook’s entire 400+ million user base. It seems the social networking giant lets users keep their age to themselves, which you might recognize as a good thing — especially if you’ve ever mistakenly asked a woman “of a certain age” how old she is.