The Golden Product Rule Facebook Should Implement

Every company has rules to follow when launching new features and Facebook is no exception. But as the company grows in size there's one rule it hasn't yet implemented that it definitely should: no features should result in the addition of privacy controls.

Every company has rules to follow when launching new features and Facebook is no exception. But as the company grows in size there’s one rule it hasn’t yet implemented that it definitely should: No features should result in the addition of privacy controls.

I came to this conclusion after reading a post about the Gmail team who spoke at this year’s South by Southwest conference. During the talk, the team described how “no new feature can launch for Gmail that adds latency to the product.” It’s a simple concept that’s often difficult to implement. Features within web services will most often add latency to the core service. However there are many ways around this, most commonly asynchronous calls.

How Google probably works around latency issues isn’t the point here; the point is that product teams need to apply rules that ensure a high quality product. And Facebook does the same thing. However, when I read that the social network had slipped in another privacy setting for their suggested photo tags feature, I immediately thought to myself, “product failure.” Facebook’s privacy settings have long been a source of disconent for users. While the company continues to refine the settings, many are still confused.

In many instances, Facebook could remove the need for a privacy setting by simplifying the product. For example, the social network has a privacy setting for wall posts, and another one for publishers — both are pictured below.

While I understand the purpose of this setting, Facebook could remove it from the privacy settings page. All the social network would have to do is prompt the user whenever he or she customizes post settings, with the question: “Would you like to make these settings your default?” Then yesterday I read that Facebook had added a new setting which lets users essentially opt-out of the suggested tags feature.

Isn’t this a sign of a broken product,though? Facebook has already had a setting that lets users hide photos they’ve been tagged in from specific people; but if the site instead required users to approve photo tags then the site could essentially kill the corresponding privacy setting altogether.

Facebook’s privacy settings have become a symptom of a broader focus on increasing user engagement instead of adding true value to the end user. What value did I personally get from helping Facebook out by tagging a friend in a photo? Fairly little.

By tagging a friend in a photo, I contributed an immense amount of value to Facebook: increased engagement and user data. There’s no doubt that privacy settings are necessary for Facebook as it helps provide users with more control of their information. However, if Facebook keeps implementing product features that require additional privacy settings, the site is only making things more complicated for the user, and hurting the overall experience.