Facebook tests new way to let users know which links come from social readers and whether their activity will be shared

Facebook appears to be testing a new feature to make users aware of their social reader privacy settings before they click on links that could end up being shared on their profiles.

Articles from social readers like the Huffington Post, Digg, ESPN, Yahoo News and others now include an icon to designate whether users’ friends will be able to see that they read the article. A green circle with a check mark means social reader activity is on. A grey circle with a check mark means a user’s activity will be private. When privacy settings are clear upfront, users are more likely to feel comfortable using social readers and other Open Graph application.

Facebook introduced “frictionless sharing” applications at f8 last year. Websites and apps can ask for permissions once and then automatically publish stories to Ticker, Timeline and News Feed when users take action like reading an article, listening to a song or watching a video. This type of activity can be very sensitive and some people might not want their friends, family or coworkers to see certain things they browse online. It is important for Facebook and third-party developers to find ways to ensure that users have full control over their experience with these apps.

A number of social readers include “incognito” modes to temporarily disable sharing. Others include prompts when an article has been shared and give users the option to delete the activity immediately. Different apps have different triggers that lead an article to be shared back on Facebook. For some, simply clicking a link and loading a page is enough to generate a story. Others wait a certain number of seconds or require a user to scroll to the bottom of a page. For now, these decisions are left up to developers, but Facebook could set its own standards in the future.

The latest addition of green and grey check marks seems to have come from Facebook’s end. These indicators appear within News Feed and a user’s personal activity log to show whether clicking a link will generate a story about the activity based on a user’s current app settings. When the icon is green, users know they are using a social reader app that will publish activity to their friends. When the icon is grey, they are browsing in private.

These icons are helpful to have in News Feed so users do not accidentally share something they did not intend to. From the activity log, users can easily change their privacy settings on individual posts or the whole application. Some users might want to have all their social reader activity set to “Visible to Only Me.” This allows them to get experience with these new applications and keep track of their own reading habits without fear of sharing something they don’t want to. Users can change their privacy settings for an app at any time from the activity log or application settings page.