Facebook axes privacy filter that blocked search

The Globe and Mail

Facebook says it has more than 20 million active users in Germany. (Joerg Koch/AP)

Facebook has announced that it will remove one of the most basic, if flawed, privacy functions it has: the ability to control who can look up your profile on Facebook.

The setting stopped certain categories of people from even finding your name in the old search bar results. A useful feature if you had stalkers, or wished to remain somewhat obscured on Facebook for other reasons.

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If you had never turned on “Who can look up your Timeline by name?” you won’t miss it, because it has been gone for at least 10 months (ever since the arrival of Graph Search). Facebook Chief privacy Officer Michael Richter said in a post on the site that “in the coming weeks” it will disappear for everyone else who was already blocking search.

In an Associated Press report on the changes, it said that a “single-digit percentage of the nearly 1.2 billion people on its network were using the setting.” That’s a vague figure, which could range anywhere between 100 million and 12 million people.

The move is part of the social firm’s transition to fully indexing everything that happens on Facebook with its Graph Search feature, an occasionally creepy tracking engine that is also key for its future revenue and advertising plans.

Mr. Richter explained the eradication of the feature in two ways: It didn’t work very well (Timelines weren’t totally hidden, you could be found in other ways), and the new features allow you to add finer privacy controls on each individual post you add to Facebook.

“The setting also made Facebook’s search feature feel broken at times. For example, people told us that they found it confusing when they tried looking for someone who they knew personally and couldn’t find them in search results, or when two people were in a Facebook Group and then couldn’t find each other through search.”

Rather than fixing that gap in the “old” privacy protections, though, Mr. Richter noted that the firm had much more granular audience and privacy settings available every time you post. The default setting on Facebook accounts is for everything to be totally public and open for everyone to see, but there will be prompts reminding users of that fact, and there are controls that add more privacy to the default settings.

“In the coming weeks, people who are sharing posts publicly on Facebook will also see a notice reminding them that those posts can be seen by anyone, including people they may not know. The notice reminds people how to change the audience for each post,” wrote Mr. Richter.

Facebook has a long and fraught relationship with its users desires for privacy, this latest move is sure to raise eyebrows among security conscious people.

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