Facebook Overhauls Privacy, Brings Controls In-Line With Content

Facebook has just announced that starting Thursday, a major overhaul of the site’s privacy controls will begin rollout to all users. The goal is to help users share exactly what they want with exactly who they want by improving privacy setting transparency, simplicity, and accessibility.

Amongst the many significant changes, privacy settings will soon appear on the profile and news feed publisher in-line with the content rather than on a dedicated privacy settings page. Users will be able to their specific or city-level location to any post, retroactively change the privacy setting of previously published content, and opt to require pre-approval any time they’re tagged in a photo, checkin, or other type of post.

The changes may reduce the volume of content that is unwittingly overshared, and help users protect themselves from being associated with objectionable content against their will. The end result could be an increase in confidence in Facebook privacy that leads users to be comfortable sharing more, which could in turn increase engagement with the site.

Facebook last redesigned its privacy settings in May 2010 following criticism regarding the complexity of the controls. It moved to provide one-click controls that could apply a privacy “bucket” — such as friends only, friends of friends, or everyone — to all settings. Still, when customizing settings, users were presented with a dense page of over 20 controls that were several clicks away from the content they manage.

The new privacy overhaul addresses both these problems, thinning out the dedicated privacy settings page by relocating the controls to be readily accessible from the profile editor and news feed publisher. Transparency is enhanced because the controls persistently display who may see the adjacent content.

Facebook says it plans to begin the rollout of the changes on Thursday with the goal of them reaching 100% of the user base within a week, barring issues. The mobile site m.facebook.com will simultaneously receive some of the new features, and the native mobile apps will likely gain some of the functionality with time.

Privacy Overhaul Walk-Through

In-Line Profile Controls, Pre-Approval of Posts

The user profile editor will display privacy settings for each piece of information or content shared, such as a user’s contact information, Liked Pages, education and work history. This prevents users from having to click back and forth between the profile and privacy settings page.

Users may access the option to preview what their profile looks like to a specific person from the profile itself, rather than the privacy settings page. This interface is very similar to how Google+ lets users preview their profiles, though Facebook Product Manager Kate O’Neill says the competitor’s design was “not on my radar”.

Facebook will allow users to tag any other person or Page in their content, not just their friends or Pages they’re connected to. To protect users from being associated with content against their will or having it appear on their profile, all posts by non-friends that tag a user are placed in a “Pending Posts” tab accessible from the profile.

Users will receive notification that someone has tagged them in a photo, checkin, status update or other post and they can approve or decline that post’s presence on their own wall. They’ll also have the option to remove the tag entirely. This means when a user publishes a post or photo that includes tags, those tags will immediately be active, but the presence of the post on the profiles of those tags may require approval.

In a major policy shift, users may also opt to have the presence on their profile of photos that tag of them require approval through Pending Posts. O’Neill says this has long been a “top user requested feature” but for years Facebook held that if a friend was tagging a user irresponsibly, they should unfriend them. The newfound ability will protect those especially weary of privacy leaks from having objectionable photos of them appear on their profile to professional or family contacts.

Publisher Gains Location and Transparent Privacy

The news feed and wall publisher will have several new functions. Users will be able to instantly tag friends in their updates using a button rather that typing the @ symbol. For the first time they may add location to their posts from the web interface, either by tagging the update with a Facebook Place, or adding the city they’re posting from as determined by their IP address and other signals.