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Privacy & Data

The Trouble with Privacy Controls

How often do you check your privacy settings on the social networks you're a member of? How often do you visit said privacy settings and are quickly frightened away by the countless switches, buttons, and toggles that would make even a submarine captain blanch?

It's not easy to take back your privacy these days. One often needs a guide to lead them through the churning, ever-changing miasma of privacy settings, not unlike Smeagol leading Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes. It's difficult enough for the nerds among us, but what chance do our less tech-savvy friends have of achieving whatever balance they wish in their privacy settings?

I spoke to Matt Pizzimenti yesterday, who developed the open-source tool "ReclaimPrivacy." Pizzimenti said he was frequently approached by friends and family asking him for advice on how to configure their Facebook privacy settings;  all those requests became the genesis for his homegrown privacy tool.  His aim was to develop a tool that could, first, show someone  the state of their privacy settings, and second,  provide a "fix" as appropriate.  Facebook is on record saying they have some privacy simplification efforts in the works; meanwhile, the ReclaimPrivacy tool stands in the gap and gives anyone the ability to make more informed choices when it comes to handling privacy settings.

ReclaimPrivacy isn't a browser add-on or a program, it's what's known as a "bookmarklet." That means that it can be installed on any modern browser and uses Javascript to interact with Facebook's servers. ReclaimPrivacy only interacts with Facebook's servers and doesn't send personal information anywhere else. There are one-click fixes where appropriate, and links to privacy settings for individual features where granular control is needed. As shown in this screenshot, this is a tool anyone can understand.

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Pizzimenti told me that once Facebook does release their simplified privacy controls, ReclaimPrivacy will be re-tooled to follow up the new specifications. Of course, if Facebook's simplified privacy controls make ReclaimPrivacy obsolete, Pizzimenti said he'll happy to take a break.