Facebook redesigns privacy controls, activity log and app permissions flow

Facebook today announced a number of changes to improve the usability of its privacy controls, including a redesigned activity log, a two-step app permissions process, a new request and removal tool for photos, and more user education throughout the site.

The social network has long offered some of the most robust privacy controls on the web, but because of this comprehensiveness, it struggles with presenting all the options in a clear, easy-to-use way. The changes announced today are Facebook’s most prominent efforts at simplifying its system and giving users more control over what they share since it overhauled privacy settings and introduced the activity log last year.

The latest changes appear to be an improvement with more straightforward language, fewer options hidden beneath menus, a faster way to untag multiple photos and an app authorization process that first asks users if an app can access a user’s information and then asks if it can post to Timeline.

Of course, any time Facebook makes any visual or functional changes, users have to adjust. The frequency with which the social network reorganizes features and introduces new ones is a source of frustration for many people. Another upcoming change that some users will dislike is the phase out of the “Who can look up my timeline by name?” setting. Facebook will soon make it so that users can not hide themselves from Facebook search. The company points out that the setting was limited in that users can be found a number of other ways on the site. It has removed the setting for users who were not using it, and will gradually remove it for the “small percentage” of users who are.

We’ll go into the changes in more depth below. Facebook says these updates will roll out over the next few weeks.

Activity Log

Facebook has redesigned the activity log feature it introduced along with Timeline last year. This is a section of a user’s profile that includes an itemized view of every action a user has taken on Facebook or with Facebook-connected apps. Previously, users could filter this view by selecting activity types from a drop-down menu. Now, filters are shown more prominently in the left-hand column, helping users know that this function exists. There are also new ways to sort information, including a way to see all public photos a user is tagged in. From activity log, it’s easy to delete or change the privacy setting of a specific post or action. Just as before, users can only see their own activity log, not the logs of others.

App Permissions

With thousands of new applications allowing users to log in with Facebook around the web and across mobile, the app permissions process is an important part of helping users control their privacy. Many users had negative experiences with applications, such as news or video apps, sharing their activity without them realizing it. The new app auth flow separates read and write permissions. This means an app will first ask if it can access a user’s public profile, friend list and email address — as well as any other additional information it needs access to. After users accept that, the app will ask if it can publish their activity and make posts on their behalf.

Previously, apps made both these requests from a single auth dialog. Now, users can agree to let an app access some information to create a more personalized experience for them, but reject an app’s request to share what they do within the app.

These changes don’t affect the permissions process for on-Facebook games. Those continue to use the auth dialogs that people are familiar with.

Request and Removal Tool

A new feature allows users to untag multiple photos at once and send requests to friends to take down images they don’t like. In the past, Facebook helped users ask friends to remove images if the user clicked the “report” button. Some users might not have thought to use the “report” button on a photo their friend took, so it makes sense to make this option available elsewhere. Users can access this from the new “photos of you” section of activity log.

Privacy Shortcuts

Facebook has created shortcuts to help users with three key aspects of their privacy: “Who can see my stuff?”, “Who can contact me?” and “How do I stop someone from bothering me?” These are easy-to-access sections from the top toolbar, whereas previously users would have had to navigate through several menus and pages of options. The language is also more straightforward, which could help users feel less overwhelmed by Facebook’s privacy settings.

In-Product Education

Facebook also notes that it has added more information and context within products so that users better understand what they’re sharing, what is visible and how they can take more action to protect their privacy. See an example below: