Facebook has, over the past few weeks, come under renewed criticism and scrutiny for amendments made to its default privacy settings, which are alleged not only to be in breach of Facebook’s own privacy policy, but also in breach of users fundamental rights to privacy.

Prior to the changes to the default settings, you could post personal information including the names of your friends, what you do to make a living, where you work, where you went to school, and your film, music and reading preferences. Access to this personal information was restricted to your direct friends, ie those who you, as the user, had specifically “accepted” as a friend, thus allowing them access to your personal details.

In the week beginning 18 April 2010, Facebook amended these default settings, and gave users an option to make their personal information publicly available, or delete it from their “page” entirely. Unless users opted to “link” up to groups suggested by Facebook based on their personal information, resulting in disclosure of that information to the public, the information was completely deleted from their Facebook page.

Users who have “linked up” to the suggested groups have found that much more of their personal information is now available not only to their accepted friends, but to anyone with access to the internet, giving users less control over the precise content they wish to make available and less control over whom their personal information can be made available to.

It is thought that rather than exposing users personal information to the wider public by default, the default Facebook settings should instead be more restrictive in order to prevent unwanted disclosure of personal information, and that rather than having to opt-in to tighter privacy controls over personal information, users should instead have to opt-out of tight controls over disclosure of their personal information if they want that information to be publicly available.

It remains to be seen whether Facebook will opt, or indeed be forced, to revert back to their previous default settings. In the meantime, its 400 millions users should be more careful than ever to ensure that the information posted on their pages contains content that they are happy to have disclosed to all users of the world wide web.

Think twice before complaining to a friend about that boring task at work or your nightmare boss!