Facebook privacy changes - thanks, Google

Facebook's privacy settings have become a whole lot friendlier

There are two ways of looking at Facebook's sudden love of sensible privacy settings: it's either a cynical response to German privacy regulators, or it's a cynical response to Google+.

Either one's fine by me.

I'm quick to criticise Facebook, so credit where credit's due: the new privacy settings go a long way to addressing some of the more irritating aspects of the service.

No more will friends be able to pollute your profile with shots where you look like a fat horse, or status updates that make you look stupid.

Now, you'll see what you've been tagged in before it turns up on your profile - and if you don't like it, you can veto it.

Best of all, no more will you have to wander through Facebook's labyrinthine privacy settings to find out what information you're sharing with stalkers, exes and identity thieves. You can change privacy settings on a per-post basis, letting everyone see this, colleagues that and friends that without having to fiddle with global settings, and there's a one-click way to see what your profile looks like to different groups of people.

It's all very Google+, and that's no accident - but it's not just a victory for Google. It's a victory for whingeing and moaning too.

We are the people

Facebook often comes across as distant and arrogant, possibly because it's distant and arrogant. It's been particularly unfriendly over privacy, largely because it's the only game in town. "Don't like our privacy policy?" Facebook cackles. "Have fun on MySpace!"

From time to time it'll backtrack - so for example it's currently in a spat with German privacy regulators who argue it breaks data protection regulations, and it'll no doubt make a few changes because of that - but the attitude is typically that of a surly teenager who's been ordered to tidy his or her room.

Whenever there's a privacy scare Facebook does the bare minimum it can get away with, and when it thinks nobody's looking the privacy fiddling starts all over again.

That means Facebook has become the service many of us love to hate: we spend more time fiddling with privacy settings than we do posting, but we can't leave because all our friends are there. However, while Facebook might not care about our moaning, Google does.

Google cares a lot.

It turns out that all our moaning hasn't been entirely wasted, because Google realised that it represented a chink in Facebook's armour. "Hmmm," said Google. "If we built something a bit Facebook-y, but added proper privacy protection, we could be awesome!" And that's exactly what Google did, attracting more than ten million users in a matter of weeks.

That's a drop in the ocean compared to Facebook's hundreds of millions, but it's enough to make Zuckerberg take notice - and to persuade Facebook to make the biggest changes to its privacy settings we've seen in years.

The moral is clear. If you can't beat 'em, moan about 'em. You never know who's listening.

Updated to clarify the new tagging features, which I'd described incorrectly: when you're tagged you can stop the item from appearing on your profile, but it doesn't prevent a photo or update from appearing elsewhere on Facebook. For that, you need to click on the post and select Remove Tag.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.