Facebook Updates the Upcoming Apps Dashboards to Address Privacy Concerns

Last week, we wrote about privacy concerns regarding the upcoming application and games dashboards which are planned for launch to all users sometime this month. The issue was the automatic display of application activity to all of a user’s friends; the dashboard would list the most three recently used applications, and how recently the interaction happened. Although for the most part users would likely have no issue with this, there were two privacy concerns that we highlighted:

  • The first was that some applications were of a type that a user may not want all of their friends knowing that they’re using. Dating apps were an obvious example.
  • The second was that as everything was visible, game activity would be displayed, making it fairly easy for employers to keep tabs on what employees are doing with their lunch breaks (or possibly not just their lunchbreaks), for example.

Facebook appears to have addressed the first issue with a developer update announcement yesterday which is intended “to ensure that the dashboards meet user and developer expectations for a trustworthy experience.” Applications will now be able to hide user activity from these dashboards with a new developer setting:

If you think your application might be of a nature that your users wouldn’t want to share with friends (your application lets users discuss health issues, for example), we encourage you to enable the Hide User Activity option on the Advanced tab of your application settings in the Developer application… While your application will still be featured in the user’s personal dashboard, it will not be visible to that user’s friends. By giving your users greater protection of their privacy, you can ensure that they will feel more comfortable continuing to use the applications they would like to keep personal.

This relies on developers making the choice as to whether their application is one that users will or won’t be happy having their friends see them using. Developers with “private” applications, such as dating, can select this option and their app won’t appear in the dashboards.

Facebook is also working on a way for users to control the dashboard content themselves, which will likely address the second of the privacy concerns. Although there’s no indication of how this might look or an exact date for when it will be ready, Facebook says, “We’re also working on giving users the ability to control how their application activity is featured in the dashboards, and it will go live shortly after the dashboards launch to users.”

As to be expected with a system as complex as the Facebook Platform, there are inevitably issues that arise as new features are introduced. In this case it’s good to see Facebook addressing these concerns as it continues to toe the line between openness and user privacy.