The move is seen as a result of the social networking site’s tie in with Google that would see Facebook users updates appear in search results.
The changes have been introduced via a pop-up screen, which each one of Facebook’s 350 million users will see when they visit the site.
Status updates, posted content, and details about friends and family have automatically been set to allow ‘everyone’ to view.
In the small print, it says that ‘information you choose to share with everyone is available to everyone on the internet.’
Facebook does allow users to retain their old settings although some consumers may not be aware of what their old setting were.
Which? Technology content editor Matt Bath said: ‘This could be seen as a move by Facebook to open up Facebook users to a wider audience but that does raise lots of questions around possible confusion for consumers when it comes to ensuring their online privacy.’
Many Facebook account holders have reacted angrily to the changes on Facebook’s own forum. One user says: ‘Now anyone who is not in my contact list can view my friends! The old option is not available!’
Many more have called for the old privacy settings to be reintroduced urgently.
Facebook updates on Google
Google is starting to offer ‘real-time content’. Announcing the changes in a blog post, it said: ‘Now, immediately after conducting a search, you can see live updates from people on popular sites like Twitter and FriendFeed, as well as headlines from news and blog posts published just seconds before.’
Facebook has said that the privacy changes would help members manage updates they wanted to share and to create ‘and create a simpler model for privacy control where you can set content to be available to only your friends, friends of your friends, or everyone.’
Elliot Schrage, vice president of communications, public policy and marketing, said: ‘Facebook is transforming the world’s ability to control its information online by empowering more than 350 million people to personalise the audience for each piece of content they share.
‘We’ve always designed Facebook to enable people to control what information they share with whom – it’s the reason our service continues to attract such a broad and diverse group of users from around the world.
‘We’re proud of the latest evolution we’re announcing today and we will continue to innovate to serve users’ changing needs.’
But the US Electronic Privacy Information Center said: ‘Facebook is asking users to review and update their privacy settings.
However, the privacy recommendations, suggested by Facebook, may result in greater disclosure than users intend.’
In a statement to the BBC, the Digital Rights Group the Electronic Frontier Foundation said: ‘These new ‘privacy’ changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before.’
It added: ‘Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data.’
Lock down your Facebook profile
To ensure your profile is protected, click Settings and then Privacy Settings. This will reveal the information contained within your profile; for instance, your Status and links, personal information, and Facebook photos where you’ve been tagged. Use the drop-down menus beside each of these to dictate whether only friends, friends of friends or everyone can view these personal details.
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