Facebook’s New Privacy Controls Give Users More Choice, and Direct Them to be More Open

Facebook is rolling out a new set of privacy options over the next few weeks — the company’s response to confusion and criticism that it has received following a number of privacy changes, product launches and security issues from late April.

Key Points

The most important aspect of the options is a new privacy interface featuring one-click controls over who sees all the content you share on Facebook, and a grid to help you visualize exactly what you are sharing, and with whom.

You’ll also gain more privacy control over data that Facebook previously directed you to share publicly, such as who you are friends with, and to which Pages you are connected.

There are also new options regarding how you share with applications and outside websites, including the choice to opt-out of the Facebook Platform (ie applications, Connect, Instant Personalization) completely with a single click.

Facebook has succeeded in balancing simplicity with granularity to create a privacy system easy enough for most to understand while still allowing full customization. However, it is still directing users to share potentially sensitive information with everyone by default, which may cause users — and Facebook — more privacy problems.

In a press conference and Q&A with company chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, he explained the genesis of the new privacy alterations. In response to criticism of the complexity of the new privacy system, Zuckerberg acknowledged that “there were a lot of changes, maybe we should have gone a bit slower or communicated a bit clearer.” As the outcry built over the course of the last month, the company quickly began working on the new privacy system, integrating testing with users from across the public-private spectrum.

Along with the new interface we’ll detail below, Facebook came to three important decisions.

1.  Privacy controls will retroactively apply to all content you have posted to date, and will apply to all new products and features added in the future.

This fact assures that anything you’ve erroneously been sharing with the wrong people up until now will be swept away to your new privacy settings. The move is crucial to pacifying users who were taken by surprise by amended privacy defaults and believed Facebook may have endangered their reputation with the changes.

Going forward, users won’t have to be afraid that new features could expose them since they’ll be governed by their own previously-chosen privacy settings.

2.  User data which was previously fixed as publicly available, including who your friends are and which Pages you are connected to, can now be controlled through privacy settings.

Realizing that people are judged by the company they keep, Facebook will allow users to keep this data private. This prevents someone from being locked out of your profile, but able to look through your friends until they locate one with a public profile where they could discover photos of you or wall posts you’ve made.

As far as Pages, this will help people become more liberal with the “Like” button. You’ll now be able to get feed updates from a controversial politician or guilty-pleasure band without sharing your connection with everyone.

3.  Facebook will reduce the frequency of changes to its privacy system.

A pleasurable Facebook experience doesn’t include staying ever vigilant of privacy modifications. The root of the backlash wasn’t that Facebook had changed, but that it had changed too quickly without educating users on how the reach of their sharing was affected. Facebook wants users to be excited about sharing and connecting, not worried about privacy. However, the new system isn’t perfect.

The New Privacy Interface

Facebook is rolling out the new privacy controls over the next few weeks, notifying users with the message above on the top of their home page when they gain access to the system. The “Learn more about controlling how you share” link leads to Facebook’s glossy Privacy Guide featuring a graphic-laden summary of the changes. Wednesday, this notification message linked the words “improved privacy settings page” directly to the new interface, but has since delinked them, perhaps wanting people to learn more before trying out the interface.

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