A Look at Facebook's New "User Friendly" Privacy Policy

Now that Facebook has unveiled a privacy policy written in plainspoken English and asked you, the user, for your opinion, have you taken time to read through the information, watch a video or comment? Maybe not, but privacy experts, consumer groups and Congress sure have. We sort through the feedback, and the policy itself, to see what a "user friendly" privacy policy really means for you, the user.

Now that Facebook has unveiled a privacy policy written in plainspoken English and asked you, the user, for your opinion, have you taken time to read through the information, watch a video or comment? Maybe not, but privacy experts, consumer groups and Congress sure have. We sort through the feedback, and the policy itself, to see what a “user friendly” privacy policy really means for you, the user.

It was just over a week ago that Facebook launched its latest effort in the privacy war, hoping a privacy policy stripped of legalese and presented in a user-friendly format would silence critics and make its stance “easy to understand.”

In a post to Facebook’s site governance section, the company’s privacy team offered a look at its “first attempt” to re-organize, rewrite, and add interactivity to the current policy, now your standard combination of legalese and “fine print.”

In terms of making the policy readable for the everyday user, consider the so-called ‘Facebook facelift’ a success. Compared to the previous 5,900-word privacy statement, the proposed new policy is easy to access and easier to read.

A navigable menu breaks the information into six parts, complete with graphics that illustrate how Facebook works.

One interactive tool, for instance, demonstrates how Facebook members’ profile data is used with advertisements (click “Personalized ads” and scroll down to “Try this tool”) by putting them in the shoes of someone creating and targeting an ad.

The company also created a visual that compares the visuals of the new and old formats.

As laid out on the site, “The new policy provides an even more in-depth and consolidated explanation of:”

  • Information Received. We provide much more detail as to the categories of information received and how it is used and what Everyone data means.
  • Information Used. We describe how we may use your information to do things like improve your Facebook experience over time. This includes using your information to target ads to you and to make different kinds of suggestions to you and your friends.
  • Advertising. In general we provide a lot more detail about how advertisers can target ads to you and provide interactive examples of advertising targeting.
  • Tagging. We explain tagging and how you may remove tags, including tags that post stories to your profile.
  • Username / User ID. We explain what the username and User ID are and what they mean for you.
  • Graph API. We explain what information about you is accessible via our APIs, including the graph API.
  • Instant Personalization. We provide even more detail about how instant personalization works and make it very clear how to control your experience.
  • Social Plugins. We explain social plugins in detail, including information we may receive about you from with social plugins.
  • Pages. We explain Pages, including that the information you post to Pages is Everyone information and that the Page owner may post iFrames on their Page.
  • Access Requests. We remind people that they may access their own data through self-service tools and also inform them of Access Requests.

Users can easily view proposed revisions to the privacy policy and also submit their own comments for the Facebook privacy team.

That outreach effort itself, making a commitment to users and seeking comment before making a privacy-related change, could be the real innovation for Facebook, and for users.

If Facebook users like the new privacy policy, the company says it will put it “through our regular notice and comment process at a later date.” Otherwise, the company will “go back to the drawing board.”

In terms of silencing critics and comforting consumers about its privacy policy, Facebook’s ‘facelift,’ is really just that.

The catch? As the company itself acknowledged, the effort extends to only the reorganization and presentation of the privacy policy, not any significant changes to its actual content.

“We’ve tried not to change the substance of the policy but, in our effort to simplify, we have added some new things that were elsewhere on the site (like our help center) and have made some other concepts clearer,” it says.

Privacy advocates say Facebook, even with the redesign, is still not telling users enough about how it uses data, like how Facebook tracks visits to the pages of other users. The Federal Trade Commission and members of Congress have, just this week, questioned the network about such privacy practices as letting third-party developers access the telephone numbers of users who allow it.

Other critics say Facebook will continue to implement new features that affect users’ data without communicating any benefit to users.

The proposed privacy policy still says: “Granting us this permission not only allows us to provide Facebook as it exists today, but it also allows us to provide you with innovative features and services we develop in the future that use your information in new ways.”

Ryan Calo, director of the Consumer Privacy Project at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, told the McClatchy Tribune News Service a privacy policy cannot be both succinct and thorough. “I am completely skeptical of privacy policies as a way to inform users,” he said. “Nobody reads them.”

Tell us what you think. Have you read the privacy policy, or are you skeptical too? Do you think your comments will make an impact?