Facebook To Introduce New, Simpler Privacy Settings

Posted by: Rob Hof on July 01, 2009

Facebook today introduced a test of new ways for its members to set and adjust their privacy settings for any piece of content they post on the site. The changes follow the recent announcement of new settings for publishing content that allow you to choose to post items that everyone, not just your friends, can see. Many see both moves in part as Facebook’s attempt to blunt the rapid rise of microblogging service Twitter.

The changes, which will be tested with 40,000 members in the U.S. in the next week and around the world the week after that, don’t add a lot of new options so much as make them simpler to access and set. Facebook hopes the new system, which consolidates 40 different settings on six separate pages, will encourage people to become more comfortable with posting items as freely as they do on Twitter and other services.

The gist is this: You will be able to go to one page to set whom you want to see whatever you post or personal information in your Facebook profile: from just friends to people in a chosen network you’re in to the whole world—which means people who aren’t Facebook members too, unless you’re a minor. And if you want, you can change those settings for each piece of content you post—such as a job complaint you want only close friends to see, not your company network. A “recommended” setting will make your basic info and content posts public—in other words more Twitterlike—but provide more privacy for other things like Wall posting from others and contact info.

You can get the details on the privacy enhancements at a slide show here (and embedded above), as well as on the Facebook blog, which you can also read after the jump here.

The upshot: While the new system is clearly simpler, and will be presented by default when people initially try to post content, I suspect it will still be too much for some people to bother with. The basic problem is that Facebook aims to offer many kinds of messaging, from intimate posts to friends to rants you want the world to read. That inherently involves people making choices, sometimes post-by-post, inevitably making the process more complex. (One blogger, Jason Kincaid at TechCrunch, thinks the new system is a looming disaster because too many people won’t realize the implications of public sharing. I’m not so sure it will be worse than it is today, though.)

Twitter is popular partly because it’s so simple: Posts are public, or they’re not. It’s to Facebook’s credit that it’s providing choices, and to its further credit that it’s now trying to make those choices simpler. But it’s no sure thing yet that the new system will keep Twitter from becoming the Internet’s biggest community bulletin board.

Here's the blog post:


Facebook Blog: Improving Sharing Through Control, Simplicity and Connection

The power to share is the cornerstone of Facebook. Privacy and the tools for tailoring what information is shared with whom are at the heart of trust. Over the past five years, Facebook has learned that effective privacy is grounded in three basic principles:

Control. When people can easily control the audience for their information and content, they share more and they're able to better connect with the people who matter in their lives.

Simplicity. When tools are simple, people are more likely to use them and understand them.

Connection. With effective tools, people can successfully balance their desire to control access to information with their desire to connect – to discover and be discovered by those they care about.

That's why in the coming days, we'll be improving privacy on Facebook by launching a series of tests that guide people to new, simpler tools of control and connection.

Control

We're committed to giving people even greater control over the information they share and the audiences with whom they share it. At one extreme, we believe people should have the tools to "broadcast" information across the web and make it available to everyone. For example, back in March, we added an "Everyone" option to give people more control and enable them to share more broadly if they want, something that wasn't possible on Facebook before.

At the other extreme, we want to give people the power to limit who should receive any particular piece of information they want to share. The Publisher Privacy Control, which we launched in a beta last week, allows you to decide who can see the content you publish on a per-post basis. For example, you may want to make some posts available to everyone, while restricting others to your friends and family. You should be able to make that decision every time you share something on Facebook, and soon you'll be able to do this.

Just a few weeks ago, we started the process of phasing out regional networks, since they did not adequately reflect a world where people choose exactly the audience with whom they wish to share. Regional networks made sense for those who wanted to be more open when Facebook was small, but they lost their utility as the site became global.

Now, if you want to share with a smaller, more targeted group, you have a number of options, including specific Friend Lists, all of your friends, your friends and people in your school or work networks, and friends of friends. To share with more people and contribute to the general conversation going on in the world, you can select "Everyone."

Simplicity

When we add new features to Facebook, we usually include a corresponding privacy setting. While this has helped give some people more individualized controls over particular features, the compounding effect of more and more settings has made controlling privacy on Facebook too complicated.

With the test we're announcing today, we'll move towards simplifying these settings and putting them all on the same page. We'll also standardize the options we provide for each setting so the choices are always the same. Lastly, we'll remove overlapping settings to reduce confusion and combine profile fields that are similar, so you only have to make one decision.

Connection

In the next few days, we will begin to explore how to make the transition to the new settings. In the process, we will be asking you to revisit and reaffirm the way you present yourself on Facebook. To do this, we will be offering a Transition Tool that asks you to select your own level of sharing. We think Facebook is most useful when people can find and connect with each other, which is why this tool will enable you to make available those parts of your profile that you feel comfortable sharing in order to facilitate better connection. You will have the choice of being as open or as limited in the sharing of this information as you want.

Two Important Notes

First, we've designed the Transition Tool to respect previous decisions to limit access to information. If you have selected settings that restrict who has access to information, those choices are carried over to the new privacy settings.

Second, none of the improvements we will be testing changes the information Facebook provides to advertisers. Facebook does not share personal information with advertisers except under the direction and control of a user. These new tools do not alter that policy or practice. You can feel confident that Facebook will not share your personal information with advertisers unless and until you want to share that information.

The test we're launching today will include a small fraction of the total number of people on Facebook. This group will receive the new, simpler settings and one of six different versions of the Transition Tool. Over the next few weeks, we'll be collecting direct feedback from the testing group and using it to make improvements to the Tool. Our goal is to ensure that people understand the changes to our privacy settings and make choices that reflect their comfort level. After the testing and feedback phase is complete, we expect to offer final versions of the Tool and the new settings to everyone on Facebook.

We're excited about having our users enjoy even greater control over how they share their content and information. We're confident that greater control will lead to richer and more useful sharing through Facebook.

Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer, is glad to be offering you more control.

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Reader Comments

NivIntellimedia

July 3, 2009 11:08 AM

Choices are good for the people on the social media sites. It should be their choice if they want to make posts public or not. Good call for Facebook. We, as a company, Niv Intellimedia, have a fan page. Wonder how it will affect company pages; if we will have choices?!

Will see.

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