Live-Blogging Facebook’s Privacy Changes Announcement

Responding to outcries about privacy issues, Facebook is introducing a new set of changes today, during a press conference at its headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif..

See our analysis of the issues from earlier this month for more details.

Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg gave the presentation of the new features, and responded to the question-and-answer followup.

The main points from the presentation are that Facebook is reverting to tighter controls, including a way for users to limit most information to just friends, and a way to easily remove all apps. These changes will apply to the site today, and to any new features it launches in the future. The privacy settings model itself will not be changed again, unless users are unhappy with the latest changes.

Live Blog Notes

Here are our live notes about highlights from the presentation, paraphrased in some places.

[Zuckerberg is providing background on how it has tried to evolve privacy networks to match its changing user base.]

This is a pretty big overhaul.

Staying connected to people around you is a core human thing. When people share more, there is more understanding of and empathy for the people all around you.

Networks have been stronger in the US and western world.

We tried to capture it early on with friends, the college network, and everyone.

We reached point where more than 50% was in networks that were whole countries. Different from how it grew in the US.

We think there are some things that are valuable to everyone — not contact information, for example. We thought about a new model.

Started going to what we have now — Friends, Friends of Friends, and Everyone. We removed regional networks completely.

People who weren’t in regional networks were more engaged, which went against our intuition. People have asked about why we did the profile transition.

We need to simplify controls. Wanted to have granular controls over every single thing.

Once you have so many controls, you don’t actually feel comfortable sharing information.

Feedback from users really resonated. That’s why we holed up. Got designers and engineers together.

[Now for the news]

One control that is friends only — unless you have more specific settings. This applies to all past changes and to all changes going forward. You launch a new product, only friends? Or only Friends of Friends.

When we went through the December privacy transition, we asked people to make available to everyone.

That’s the first thing. The second is about finding you on the site. We’re making changes here too. December privacy transition that people weren’t using, we tried to simplify. But removed some, may have been a mistake. We’re making it so less information will be public. The Connections model was too confusing. We’re removing nuance around Connections model.

You can hide your Page Connections. These are all controls. You can set to whatever you want.

[But you can’t hide your name, profile picture, network and gender (if you provide this info).]

You can turn off all apps, you can delete apps with a button. You can turn off Instant Personalization.

The third is the granular permissions model for apps, which we discussed at f8 and coming in June.

Rolling out over next few days or weeks.

We’ll put a message at the top of the homepage that links to information about privacy — something we have hardly ever done.


Question: What about overall trust?

Mark Zuckerberg: More people have posted status updates worried about Facebook beginning to charge than privacy concerns. We’ve seen no meaningful change in any stats [related to these concerns]. Every time we roll out a product, our net promoter score initially drops, but after a few weeks it comes up, it usually is higher. After f8, we saw a drop in our net promoter score, which we thought must be due to privacy issues. But when we dug into it further, it turns out it was from a change we made to our news feed algorithm regarding the relative weighting of photos versus games. I take our privacy issues very seriously.”

Question: What influence has the government had on these changes?

MZ: We have had conversations both with the senators who had feedback for us, and the non-profit privacy organizations. We listened to users most though. There is a big misperception that we are making these changes that it’s good for advertising. Anyone who knows me knows that that’s crazy.

…. Some people think that people want to make information as private as possible. That’s just not what users are telling us. We care a lot about privacy, I want to be careful not to be misquoted, but people use the service because they like sharing information. As long as they have good controls over that, I really think that’s where the world is going.

Question: Has the reaction been bigger than before?

MZ: Every situation is different. When we launched the news feed, there were 1 million of our 10 million users protesting us. We had people in front of our office. Now that we have 400 million users, even if a small percentage of people protest, that could end up being more people than the state of New York. Previous things that we’ve done, we were a lot smaller.

Question: How will you ensure people don’t backlash in the future.

MZ: We did a wave of changes recently, and one of the things we’re taking away from this is there were a lot of changes, maybe we should have gone a bit slower or communicated a bit clearer. I’m not sure how we could have done it 100% better, but we learn time and time again that privacy is the most sensitive thing. My personal feeling is that this would have been a lot worse if we had done these changes over a period of two years. One of the big takeaways is don’t mess with the privacy stuff for a long time. Hopefully we have a system that will scale with the user base as it grows to however big it’s going to get. Anything we do that even changes how the information is displayed, not who is it displayed to, like the news feed example, is a sensitive issue.

Question: Why aren’t you making defaults more private?

MZ: If you do not want to do this, click on link, see default, change for all posts going forward, one piece of data, going forward. A lot of people change their settings. More than 50 percent of people have changed at least one setting. I think we’re doing a good job.

There’s an argument that people are keeping defaults because they don’t know any better. I think that’s interesting, but data also suggests that while most people comfortable with most defaults, and are otherwise comfortable going in and changing. The data suggests that defaults are right, and that people are able to change if they want.

Question: How does this affect your revenue?

We didn’t talk about revenue at all when we had these conversations. In the past, we had this episode where Yahoo and Viacom were trying to buy the company. I was 22 and people were offering us a billion dollars for the company. We reached a point where we weren’t building the company to make the most money.

We didn’t want to sell the company. When you’re 22 and have an opportunity for that much money, you’re no longer making decisions about money.

Any amount of money would not have been worth the last 4 years of building the company. The ads business is an important part of what we do, but I think there’s a disconnect between how some people perceive this and how we’re building the company.We’re working on the ad business, but also platform, user features.

Question: Location services? You’re probably going to have another backlash on your hands. How are you going to prevent another backlash?

One simple control for sharing — that will apply to all settings going forward. I’m not ready to talk about location because it’s not done and we don’t know what we’re doing yet.

But if you set your sharing to Friends Only, that’s what it will be.

Question: Any traffic changes?

No. Nothing. But we listened to feedback and we agreed with it. We think it’s the right thing to do. The per-post privacy on news feed, the granular data permissions on platform… There are so many things that we want to do. Every service is going to evolve, and become engaging over time. We’re open to all feedback. In this case, we thought this was really good feedback that we wanted to incorporate quickly.

And, here’s more details from the press release that Facebook sent out (see Zuckerberg’s post, as well):

One control for content: A new simple control makes it easy to share on Facebook with friends, friends of friends or everyone–all with just one click. The corresponding settings are immediately applied and displayed in an easy-to-understand grid. At the same time, Facebook has maintained its more granular settings for those who want to customize their level of sharing. These settings now all appear on a single page for easier access.

Retroactive control: People who choose the more restrictive “Friends Only” or “Friends of Friends” options with the simple control will have the corresponding setting for all the content they posted previously for sharing. Thus, a person can make all the content they’ve ever shared on Facebook more private with just a couple of clicks.

Future products: Facebook commits to carry over people’s privacy choices for new products that facilitate sharing. Thus, if someone chooses “Friends Only” for “Sharing on Facebook,” new products that have privacy settings will be automatically set to “Friends Only.” This means Facebook users don’t have to worry about new settings in the future.

Prioritizing simplicity: Granularity of control has always been a primary objective in Facebook’s privacy design. Starting with the changes announced today, the company will also prioritize ease-of-use in its privacy design.

Fewer privacy changes: Facebook’s goal is to make privacy-related changes with less frequency and to work within the framework announced today as it continues to innovate new features and products.

Less Publicly Available Information

Significantly less public information: Facebook has drastically reduced the amount of information that is available to everyone. This information is now limited to name, profile picture (should a user choose to have one), gender (though this can be hidden on the profile), and networks (should the user join any).

Privacy controls for Pages: Connections to Pages, which were previously available to everyone, will have privacy settings that work for both ends of the connection. People can prevent others from seeing Pages on their profile and from seeing them in the “People who like this” boxes on the Pages themselves. Applications will also need to ask for explicit permission in order to access any of your Pages that are not visible to everyone.

Easier Opt Outs

Full control over how applications and websites on Facebook Platform access information: In response to requests, Facebook has added a simple way for people to completely turn off Platform applications and websites, so that your information is not shared with applications, even information available to everyone.

Easier opt-out of Instant Personalization Pilot Program: Facebook has also made it easier for people to turn off the instant personalization program, which prevents those, and any future, applications in the program from accessing their information.

Granular data permissions for applications and websites: Facebook also highlighted the new controls users have over information shared with applications and websites on Facebook Platform. With the new data permissions model, applications must obtain specific approval before gaining access to any personal information that a user has not made available to “Everyone.”