Facebook attempts to demystify its privacy settings, will test clearer prompts


One of the biggest points of confusion among Facebook users comes with privacy settings. It’s something that Facebook as a company takes seriously, engineers and managers told reporters Tuesday.

Every day, Facebook performs 80 trillion checks to ensure that users’ content is shown only to the audiences they intended. User input is also valued highly, as Facebook runs 4,000 surveys per day in 27 languages, gauging opinion on privacy settings and changes.

But soon, users on both desktop and mobile will see clearer calls to action and options to let them know just who they’re sharing content with. One of the chief complaints the Facebook privacy team has received is when unintended recipients see content, most likely because the user has privacy set incongruently.

So what’s going to happen?

Facebook will make it more obvious who will see the content shared on both desktop on mobile.


Above are two updates Facebook will soon start testing. On the iOS app, Facebook will show the group (whether it’s friends, public or custom) that you’re sharing with directly above the status update prompt. Additionally, Facebook is changing up the drop-down box on desktop, more clearly explaining what privacy options of “public” and “friends” means, as engineers found that many people who posted publicly were surprised when people they’re not connected with were able to see content. Facebook is doing what it can to make sure users know just who they’re sharing content with, in order to clear up a principal complaint.

Facebook is also occasionally popping a friendly message (as seen at the top of the story) onto the screen when a user hasn’t changed their posting audience in a while.

Michael Nowak, a product manager on the Facebook privacy team, explained why Facebook is trying to make it clearer for users who can be confused by constant changes and updates:

Sometimes, when people share things on Facebook, they feel that their information is shared with more people than they want. This is not a great experience, when there’s an unpleasant surprise when people share things thinking they’re going to be shared by one audience and they’re seen by someone they didn’t expect. We’re thinking about what are the kinds of product experiences that we can develop to help people with this. I think this is important to emphasize — When people have an unpleasant surprise like this, it’s bad for them and it’s bad for us. People feel less comfortable sharing over time.

Facebook utilizes user feedback into developing better privacy experiences. The privacy team has a screen in their office which shows a stream of users feedback about privacy, so Nowak noted that the input is literally “hanging over their heads.” One notable way that Facebook took privacy feedback and made a change was the alteration in teenagers’ sharing settings. Engineering manager Raylene Yung said that the team had gotten loads of feedback saying how users couldn’t post publicly. Then Facebook discovered that these complaints were coming from teenagers, who could only post to friends-only. After seeing that teenagers craved to post publicly, Facebook allowed this to happen.

Facebook will also give users more control over the privacy of past cover photos. Though Facebook considers the user’s current profile photo, name and cover photo as public information, the company realizes that past cover photos don’t always represent the public face that users want to show.

Readers: Do you feel that a clearer call to action will make privacy settings less confusing?