x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Facebook removes privacy option for users to remain unsearchable

Social media users take to Twitter to voice Facebook privacy concerns after website makes everyone searchable.

Facebook users are worried by the social media giant's latest move over privacy. Reuters/Dado Ruvic
Facebook users are worried by the social media giant's latest move over privacy. Reuters/Dado Ruvic

ABU DHABI // Facebook is to remove a feature that allows users to hide themselves from search results.

The social media website, which has almost 1.2 billion users worldwide, said in a blog post that it is removing the feature, sparking worry among users in the UAE.

UAE Twitter user Emma Kirkman said: “Not happy at all. I should be able to control who finds me online.”

Another Dubai Twitter user, named M, said: “Not happy with this change. This should be challenged. Contemplating deactivating my account.”

Another added: “I left Facebook back in 2009 because of privacy concerns before rejoining last year. Contemplating leaving again!”

Alexander McNabb, the director of Spot On PR and a blogger in the UAE, believes the move is all about money making.

He said: “Facebook’s being a bit weaselly here.

“They introduced this change with a blog post slipped under the door titled ‘Reminder: Finishing the Removal of an Old Search Setting’.

“It makes everyone searchable, which isn’t in itself a huge deal.

“But Facebook itself says a number of users have opted to remain unsearchable, apparently in the single digits of per cent, but when you’ve got a billion users, that’s tens of millions of people. It’s another slither in the direction of making us all searchable social assets.

“We’re meat and Facebook’s the grinder. It sells people to people and it’s slowly pressing on people to make more of themselves available to sell.”

The setting was called “Who can look up your Timeline by name?” – and allowed users to restrict who could find them through the site’s search bar.

For users who did not use the feature, it will have simply disappeared. For those who did use the feature, they will receive a message informing them that it is no longer available.

“The setting was created when Facebook was a simple directory of profiles and it was very limited,” said Facebook’s chief privacy officer, Michael Richter.

The setting made the Facebook search “feel broken at times”, Mr Richter added in the company blog on Thursday.

“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.

“It didn’t prevent people from navigating to your Timeline by clicking your name in a story in News Feed, or from a mutual friend’s Timeline.

“Today, people can also search Facebook using Graph Search. For example, ‘People who live in Seattle’, making it even more important to control the privacy of the things you share, rather than how people get to your Timeline.”

Mr Richter said the change should not have an impact on overall privacy.

“Whether you’ve been using the setting or not, the best way to control what people can find about you on Facebook is to choose who can see the individual things you share,” he said.

Tahani Karrar-Lewsley, the chief executive of Dubai-based Menar Media, said: “Users should be more aware of what photos they post on their profile picture and cover photo as these will be readily available to anyone on Facebook.

“This change will allow any user of Facebook that you haven’t specifically blocked the ability to see your name, your profile picture, your gender and your cover photo. It will also allow users to see your networks, although there is still an opt-out option for that.

“Although the headlines of Facebook further eroding privacy can strike fear into any user’s heart, this can be manageable. You can change your profile and cover photos to ones you would be comfortable showing any stranger on the street.

“Ultimately, the reason behind this action is Facebook wants you to be found, it has more than one billion users and is a de facto directory of the world’s internet users.”

To make your posts only visible to chosen friends, users should navigate to the privacy menu of their profiles.

Once there, you must go to the “Who can see my stuff?” menu and there you can chose who can view your future, and past, posts.