On Thursday, Facebook announced (via their blog) that they would begin the process of removing a privacy setting that was used by a minority of users: the ability to hide yourself from Facebook search results. Facebook removed the ability to set this from users who were not taking advantage of it last year and will start notifying the users who are of this change this week. While this seems like a minor change, it’s one more aspect of privacy control that Facebook (started as an exclusive, private network) has taken away in recent updates.
The reasons cited for the change are primarily the small percentage of users taking advantage of the setting and the recent upgrade to Graph Search. These reasons don’t hold water. If someone doesn’t want people to be able to search for them by name, they sure as hell don’t want to appear in results for “People who live in Austin and like Miley Cyrus.” On the numbers side, as The Atlantic notes, just one percent of Facebook’s 1.2 billion registered users amounts to 12 million people. Twelve million people who have decided that they want to be able to choose who they add to their social network. Who don’t want to be found by every childhood classmate and random acquaintance that decides to search for them. These are teachers and professors who want to keep their personal and professional lives separate, people who have cut ties with previous partners or with family and wish to live a life free of the negativity that baggage provides, public figures who don’t want to battle off thousands of Friend Requests from fans and spammers.
More poignantly, these are survivors of domestic violence, grasping to maintain the good connections they had while staying invisible to their past tormentors. These are victims of stalking, who have cut so many ties in their lives to get away from someone else’s obsession.
This change isn’t simply something that can be solved by telling people to just “not share anything you wouldn’t want everyone to see.” Your cover photo and profile picture are Public, with no ability to change this setting. Yes, you can refrain from using personal pictures for those. You can use a pseudonym (although this has been against Facebook Terms and Conditions in the past). You can lock down your profile even more than you have it locked down already. You can block the people you want to hide from (of course, knowing that you’re on Facebook now, they can always create another profile to harass you from). But someone shouldn’t have to go to all that trouble just to be able to interact with other people in the network. Putting the onus on the abused to censor themselves and hide in the shadows from their abusers is a) morally unconscionable, and b) cutting them off from vital lifelines.
Hopefully, Facebook will reconsider this change to their privacy settings, but until then, if you have concerns about being seen on Facebook, it’s always a good idea to review your privacy settings and make sure you’re in control over the data shown on Facebook.