With New Privacy Settings, Facebook Wants Best of Both Public and Private Worlds

Facebook is starting to walk its 350 million monthly active users through a new interface for privacy settings today. Each user will see a window when they log in to Facebook, directing them to a page that asks them to confirm a new set of options for who can see things like their photos and status updates.

The big picture here is that Facebook is trying to balance a complex set of use cases so that people will use it — and not other services — for all sorts of public and private sharing. One minute, the average user might want to share a status update with the world and the next minute they might want to share a set of baby pictures with just their family.

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We should note that Facebook first announced most of these settings in July. But there are a few very big new aspects to the changes today. Here, we’ll discuss how it all works, and how the moves fit in with Facebook’s larger goals.

First, after clicking through the initial window, users are taken to the new privacy settings page. It shows a range of menu options, letting users decide what types of information will be shared with whom. The company has pre-selected a choice for each category. If the user has, in their previous Facebook privacy settings, selected a more restrictive set of options than what Facebook makes the new default, then Facebook will pre-select “Old Settings” in the new options.

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Today on a call with the press, Facebook estimated that only 15 to 20 percent of all users have previously made changes to their privacy settings. This means that for around 280 million people, Facebook will pre-select the new options. And, in some cases, Facebook is tacitly pushing users to share more with the world.

Facebook Pushes “Posts I Create” to “Everyone”

In the first section of the new privacy settings page, users see the following categories: About Me, Family and Relationships, Work and Education, and “Posts I Create” (which includes status updates, links, photos, videos and notes). In this section, each user has two options: Either stick with their old settings or let “everyone,” as in everyone on the internet, see the information in each category.

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The other information is pretty standard. The really interesting part is that Facebook has put “Posts I Create” into this category — there’s no option to, by default, share “Posts I Create” with just, say, your friends.

However, to balance this push, Facebook is also rolling out a new, more granular set of ways to change settings in the publisher (for those not familiar with the term, this is the big window for sharing things that you see at the top of the news feed on the home page, and at the top of each user profile). Even if you have all of your status updates, photos, etc. set to be shared with everyone, you can still decide to be more restrictive for each piece of content as you share it. As with the other changes, the core of this interface was announced much earlier this year.

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Publisher privacy options, as the company discussed in July, will now include not only everyone, but “Friends of Friends,” “Only Friends” or “Customize.” The last option lets you choose a specific friend list or verified network to share the content with. So if you have a friend list of family or college friends created already, you can choose the list and only share your special photos with them.

Note that verified networks include workplace and school networks, and can only be accessed by people with email domains for those types of networks (like “ericeldon@company.com” or “ericeldon@college.edu”). Regional networks, as the company has been saying for a long time, are gone.