Facebook’s Publishes Re-Imagined Privacy Policy for the Average User

Facebook has published an alternative, unofficial version of its privacy policy that is easier for the average user to understand. This “re-imagined” privacy policy uses simpler language, is more visual with graphics and screenshots, pools related information, includes links to interactive tools, and is layered for better browsing.

Nothing in the policy has changed, but it will help answer some common questions, reducing fear and leading users to share more comfortably. However, more could be done to directly confront rumors of data misuse.

Facebook is currently seeking feedback on the new format, and will “consider making it our official privacy policy” if feedback is positive.

Over the years, Facebook has had a tough time accomplishing its goal to “make the world more open and connected” while satisfying privacy critics. Giving users full control while minimizing interface complexity is a difficult task.

In April 2010, Facebook redesigned its privacy controls and pushed users through a privacy transition tool to make their interests public. Confusion and negative press led it to another redesign in May that prioritized simplicity, one-touch controls, and easy opt outs, allowing users to quickly protect all their data.

While privacy controls had improved, the document explaining Facebook’s policies was still “5830 words of legalese” as the site describes in today’s announcement. This meant if users had concerns but weren’t willing to wade through the privacy policy, they would assume the worse, propagating a perception that it was unsafe to share on Facebook. The re-imagined privacy policy will help alleviate this issue.

Re-Imagined Privacy Policy Walk-Through

The new version of the privacy policy is broken down into six sections plus some additional resources:

  • Your information and how it is used
  • Your information on Facebook
  • Your information on other websites and applications
  • How advertising works
  • Minors and Safety
  • Some other things you need to know

“Your information and how it is used” includes an explaination of what information Facebook receives from users, a clear description of the “Everyone” privacy option for publicly sharing data, what data is available through usernames and User IDs, and how Facebook uses the information it receives.

It describes how Facebook can receive information about users, such as their conversion habits, from its advertisers. It notes that it keeps “the data for 180 days. After that, we combine the data with other people’s data in a way that it is no longer associated with you.”

“Your information on Facebook” includes a guide to the current privacy control interface, an introduction to managing privacy on a per post basis, a description of what friends can share about you and how users can configure this, definitions of the “Friends”, “Friends of friends” and “Everyone” privacy buckets, and the distinction between deactivating and deleting one’s account.

Facebook notes that when a user deletes their account, “It typically takes about one month…but some information may remain in backup copies and logs for up to 90 days”.

“Your information on other websites and applications” defines the Facebook Platform, explains how to use the application and website privacy dashboard, outlines what data friends can share through applications and how to manage it, describes logging into Facebook on third-party websites and how they use social plugins, gives a full explanation of Instant Personalization, explains how all data shared on Facebook Pages is public, and describes how users can manage the public search engine listings of their profiles.

Facebook notes that “if you turn your public search setting off and then search for yourself on a public search engine, you may still see a preview of your profile. This is because some search engines cache information for a period of time.”

“How advertising works” describes how advertisers are able to target users, and how their social actions can be used in social context ads. It also links to a new introduction page for social ads.

Ad targeting is a common concern amongst users, as some think advertisers know their identity, not just anonymized demographic information. Facebook does a good job of explaining how advertisers only see user data in aggregate form, but doesn’t clearly state that content from a user’s wall posts or private messages can’t be used to target them — a frequent misconception.

“Minors and Safety” simply states that Facebook takes child safety very seriously, provides a link to the Safety Center, and explains that special safeguards for minors may cause them to have a limited Facebook experience.

This section could import more data from the Safety Center to help parents understand that with proper use of privacy settings, children can browse Facebook without being in danger.

“Some other things you need to know” includes information about Facebook’s compliance with the European Union’s Safe Harbor framework, how Facebook responds to legal requests for user data from governments, how it responds to access requests, how users can manage their notifications, and how user data is employed in the Friend Finder and invitations sent to new users to join the site.

It also explains memorial accounts for deceased users, how cookies are used, how Facebook shares data with service providers like its web hosts, the procedure for announcing site governance changes and how users can comment and vote on the changes, a description of how user data would be affected if Facebook changed ownership, and a link to Facebook’s Security Page.

Additional resources include “Interactive”, which houses links that allow users to preview how their profile looks to other users or search engines, and “Videos” explaining Facebook’s privacy policies and controls.


The re-imagined privacy policy successfully simplifies Facebook’s official policy document. There is opportunity for improvement, specifically in directly addressing common myths and misconceptions, but this is a big step forward. While there’s still a place for a detailed, legally binding privacy policy that has less room for interpretation, this user-focused version gives the site something comprehensible to point to when approached with concerns.

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