Facebook's Privacy Settings May Soon Change, But Its Spin Sure Hasn't

Last Updated May 19, 2010 1:10 PM EDT

It apparently doesn't yet qualify for a major, detailed announcement, but a Facebook executive has let slip that the company is about to streamline its privacy settings by moving to (or adding) "simplistic bands of privacy" within a few weeks. Tim Sparapani, the company's public policy director, gave the news on the radio program, The Koji Nnamdi Show yesterday, though the shift doesn't necessarily seem to have been put in the context of things like the Quit Facebook movement, currently at almost 6,000 "committed Facebook quitters" or last week's all-hands meeting at Facebook about privacy. (A small segment of the interview, which does not include the news of new privacy settings, is embedded below.)

The rethinking of privacy settings is welcome, but if you're expecting a big mea culpa in this interview from Sparapani, you're not going to get it. At times, Sparapani sounds almost robotic in his continued assertion that Facebook is giving people what they want, even explaining people have "a deep-seated psychological need to explain themselves and to put the best sense of themselves forward for the World Wide Web to see."

Since Facebook, not to mention the Web, has only been around for a mere blip in human time, can this really be true? And doesn't at least some of the outcry recently show that need might not be as deep-seated as Facebook believes?

Sparapani seems so tone deaf -- or committed to Facebook spin -- that he doesn't even really seem to get the context in which Wired's Ryan Singel, who also participates in the interview, compares the company to other techno-behemoths like Google or Microsoft. Says Singel:

People get wary of the companies that get really big. It's the reason that people feel like Google is often like big brother even when they can't point to an instance of something that really freaks them out. So I think people are growing to be wary of Facebook, and I think they ought to be. I think that online identity is way too important to be left in the hands of one giant company.
Sparapani replies:
I appreciate the comparison to both Google and Microsoft ... If we're doing that well, I appreciate Ryan for the compliment.
Seriously! I could go on, but my point here is not to make fun of Sparapani, but to underscore that a promise of upcoming privacy changes does not a chastened Facebook make. One part of getting back in the good graces of the service's self-appointed privacy police (if that's even a priority for Facebook) is to press the reset button on how it messages what it's doing to the outside world. We're not there yet.

Previous coverage of Facebook and privacy at BNET Media: