Facebook’s Photo Flap

Facebook has made a small change in its developer API code designed to limit the unwanted spread of personal photos posted by its members. But some developers of popular Facebook applications are voicing their displeasure with the move.

The API change addressed an issue caused by the social networking site’s settings, which exposed all of a user’s photo albums, even if their profile had been set to limit visibility only to limited groups.

“Because it is not currently possible to reach these photos on the site without a direct link, we changed the behavior of the API to only show links to a user’s albums when our Photos application does, which is even more restrictive than the album’s privacy setting,” Facebook’s Matt Trainer said on the site’s developer blog.

The news comes as fast-growing Facebook continues to tinker with its privacy policies in the face of criticism. Last week, Canada’s privacy commissioner said Facebook wasn’t doing enough to protect the privacy of its users.

“It’s clear that privacy issues are top of mind for Facebook, and yet we found serious privacy gaps in the way the site operates,” Jennifer Stoddart, the country’s privacy commissioner, told Reuters. Facebook has over 200 million users worldwide.

In the photo-sharing case, Facebook’s Trainer said the change was made “to ensure that users who have their profiles set to a privacy other than ‘everyone’ are not surprised by photos being exposed through the API … we want to make sure the API reflects this site behavior.”

Users could avoid exposing photos by manually changing the privacy setting, but once it became apparent photos were being shared without users’ consent because the setting wasn’t changed, Facebook said it took action.

Angry developers

But a number of angry developers were quick to criticize the move.

Josh Carcione said he spent his life savings and attracted 90,000 users to his PhotoStalker application that he said had been approved by Facebook’s privacy representatives.

“My application is now completely useless,” Carcione posted in response to the change. “This is borderline unlawful.”

He also pleaded with Facebook to change the API back to its original functionality and set the default albums settings to ‘friends only’ as a way to “make everyone happy.” He also complained that the change was made without any notice.

A Facebook representative told InternetNews.com that the company typically does communicate changes in advance, but in some cases chooses to address an issue directly without advance notice to the community at large.

“We’ve heard from a small number of developers, who we’ve been communicating with via the Developer Forum,” the Facebook spokesperson said in an e-mail. “For the few developers impacted by this update, we recommend they expand their application experience to focus on general photo and album viewer access.”

Another commenter in the devs blog complained Facebook hasn’t addressed the issue effectively.

“Ironically, the applications being affected have done far more than Facebook to
raise understanding and awareness of photo privacy settings. A vast and ever-increasing number of people use these applications,” user Ryapan wrote.

“The change hasn’t really solved the underlying issue either. Users with their
profile privacy not set to Everyone are no more aware that their photo albums
default to Everyone, and can therefore be viewed by anyone with a link to any
part of the album (e.g. photo comment or tag by someone with a visible album).”

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