(By Kashmir Hill)
“Facebook’s Richter says the site is tearing off invisibility cloaks because “the setting made Facebook’s search feature feel broken at times. For example, 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.”
In an earlier, simpler time, Facebook had a quaint little privacy option that let users opt out of being found in searches. It allowed the rare hermit types who embraced social media to have a profile on the site that could not be found by strangers, or even in some cases, contacts and friends. Like an invisibility cloak, it allowed them to be on the site but only to open the cloak — and friend people — when they chose. It was a popular option among privacy-loving types and celebs. Facebook took away that Harry Potter-like option from its privacy settings last year. But anyone who had donned the invisibility cloak previously — such as Selena Larson at ReadWrite — got to hold onto it… until now. Facebook says it’s yanking away the cloak from the remaining privacy hold-outs.
“The search setting was removed last year for people who weren’t using it,” wrote Facebook’s chief privacy officer Michael Richter in a blog post Thursday. “For the small percentage of people still using the setting, they will see reminders about it being removed in the coming weeks.”
One of Facebook’s major functions in society at this point is as a digital directory — a white pages — for confirming a person’s identity or figuring out how to contact them. So this is welcome news from the perspective of being able to track down anyone you want, even if they didn’t really want to be found. Now if you search for someone, and they don’t come up, you know they don’t actually have a Facebook account, or they’re on Facebook under a different name (a popular option for privacy-conscious high schoolers and Germans). Facebook’s Richter says the site is tearing off invisibility cloaks because “the setting made Facebook’s search feature feel broken at times. For example, 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.”
A Facebook spokesperson says that “a small percentage of people – in the single digits” were still using the feature. Of course, when you have a billion users, single digit percentages translate to tens of millions of people. Those were tens of millions of people who weren’t showing up when you were trying to find them in searches. Well, no hiding any more. The only option now for hiding out on Facebook is to block the people you want to hide from.
“I am one of those small number,” commented one of my Facebook friends. “What a bummer.”
If you are one of the millions, make sure your privacy settings are on lock-down. The best way to test that they are is to use Facebook’s “View As” feature to see what a stranger can see when they look at your profile.
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