Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, CA (image credit Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty)
Roger Yu, USA TODAY
Facebook introduced changes to its privacy settings Wednesday, a move that will stir anxiety among change-averse users but one that the company says will make accessing the options easier.
With the social networking company under heavy criticism from privacy advocates, the changes are designed to eliminate surprises about how the privacy settings work and controlling your content.
"Surprises are very bad for users and very bad for us," says Samuel Lessin, director of product at Facebook. "We want people to have a lot of confidence in our platform."
Most of the changes will be phased in before the end of the year. Among the new features:
- Privacy setting shortcut icon: Facebook users now access privacy settings by drilling down from the "Settings" menu in the upper right hand corner. A new icon, with only the most commonly used privacy options, will get its own icon in the upper right hand corner. The options in the icon include: "Who can see my stuff;" "Who can contact me;" and "How do I stop someone from bothering me?" It'll also contain a magnifying glass symbol for looking up help in controlling privacy settings.
- New placement for the Privacy Settings page: For options beyond the ones available in the shortcut icon, users will have to get to the Privacy Settings page, which will get a new placement. Instead of being one of the options in the "Settings" drill down menu in the upper right hand corner, it'll be listed below the "Security" option under "Account Settings" When asked if the new placement would make finding Privacy Settings difficult, Lessin says grouping "security" and "privacy" is more intuitive and that most of the commonly used privacy options are available under the new icon. "I'd argue it's more accessible," he says.
- App permissions: Currently, Facebook users answer one question to allow third-party apps to access their personal information and to give permission to the app for publishing to your friends on your behalf. When the changes are implemented, the two questions will be separate.
- Removal of "How You Connect" in Privacy Settings: The top option in Privacy Settings will be removed since they're available in the new icon. Facebook also has been gradually retiring the "Who can look up your timeline by name?" option in Privacy Settings and that effort will continue, Lessin says. "If you want it on Facebook, you should leave it on Facebook. If you don't want it, you should get rid of it," he says.
- Clearer explanation: Facebook will add more explanations about where your information is available throughout the pages. For posts that are hidden from Timeline, it'll let users know that they still appear in search, news feed and other places in Facebook.
- Tagging removal: Users who are tagged in photos by a friend but want to remove them can make the request directly under the "Activity Log." Go to the "Photos of you" option and have them untagged and/or taken down.
- Updates to Activity Log: Facebook also added new navigation tools to the Activity Log for looking up your own activity, including your likes, comments and photos. You can also sort information more easily in the updated format, such as photos you're tagged in.
To address users' complaint that its privacy settings are too confusing, Facebook introduced last year a round of changes that improved selecting the audience of wall posts, photos and other content. It also introduced the Activity Log that shows your activities.
Earlier this year, Facebook settled with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to resolve charges that the company made public some personal information of users after telling them that they're kept private.
The settlement requires Facebook to give consumers "clear and prominent notice" and obtaining their express consent before sharing information beyond their privacy settings. The federal agency also required Facebook to maintain a comprehensive privacy program to protect consumers' information and obtain privacy audits from an independent third party.