August 23, 2011 / by Jeff

Facebook Overhauls Privacy, Brings Controls In-Line With Content

Facebook has just announced that starting Thursday, a major overhaul of the site’s privacy controls will begin rollout to all users. The goal is to help users share exactly what they want with exactly who they want by improving privacy setting transparency, simplicity, and accessibility.

Amongst the many significant changes, privacy settings will soon appear on the profile and news feed publisher in-line with the content rather than on a dedicated privacy settings page. Users will be able to their specific or city-level location to any post, retroactively change the privacy setting of previously published content, and opt to require pre-approval any time they’re tagged in a photo, checkin, or other type of post.

The changes may reduce the volume of content that is unwittingly overshared, and help users protect themselves from being associated with objectionable content against their will. The end result could be an increase in confidence in Facebook privacy that leads users to be comfortable sharing more, which could in turn increase engagement with the site.

Facebook last redesigned its privacy settings in May 2010 following criticism regarding the complexity of the controls. It moved to provide one-click controls that could apply a privacy “bucket” — such as friends only, friends of friends, or everyone — to all settings. Still, when customizing settings, users were presented with a dense page of over 20 controls that were several clicks away from the content they manage.

The new privacy overhaul addresses both these problems, thinning out the dedicated privacy settings page by relocating the controls to be readily accessible from the profile editor and news feed publisher. Transparency is enhanced because the controls persistently display who may see the adjacent content.

Facebook says it plans to begin the rollout of the changes on Thursday with the goal of them reaching 100% of the user base within a week, barring issues. The mobile site will simultaneously receive some of the new features, and the native mobile apps will likely gain some of the functionality with time.

Privacy Overhaul Walk-Through

In-Line Profile Controls, Pre-Approval of Posts

The user profile editor will display privacy settings for each piece of information or content shared, such as a user’s contact information, Liked Pages, education and work history. This prevents users from having to click back and forth between the profile and privacy settings page.

Users may access the option to preview what their profile looks like to a specific person from the profile itself, rather than the privacy settings page. This interface is very similar to how Google+ lets users preview their profiles, though Facebook Product Manager Kate O’Neill says the competitor’s design was “not on my radar”.

Facebook will allow users to tag any other person or Page in their content, not just their friends or Pages they’re connected to. To protect users from being associated with content against their will or having it appear on their profile, all posts by non-friends that tag a user are placed in a “Pending Posts” tab accessible from the profile.

Users will receive notification that someone has tagged them in a photo, checkin, status update or other post and they can approve or decline that post’s presence on their own wall. They’ll also have the option to remove the tag entirely. This means when a user publishes a post or photo that includes tags, those tags will immediately be active, but the presence of the post on the profiles of those tags may require approval.

In a major policy shift, users may also opt to have the presence on their profile of photos that tag of them require approval through Pending Posts. O’Neill says this has long been a “top user requested feature” but for years Facebook held that if a friend was tagging a user irresponsibly, they should unfriend them. The newfound ability will protect those especially weary of privacy leaks from having objectionable photos of them appear on their profile to professional or family contacts.

Publisher Gains Location and Transparent Privacy

The news feed and wall publisher will have several new functions. Users will be able to instantly tag friends in their updates using a button rather that typing the @ symbol. For the first time they may add location to their posts from the web interface, either by tagging the update with a Facebook Place, or adding the city they’re posting from as determined by their IP address and other signals.

Privacy controls will appear in-line on the publisher as well. It will display the privacy bucket the update being composed rather than showing a nondescript lock icon. Some users currently don’t realize they’re sharing content publicly, but this should alert them. The privacy bucket can be changed and set as the default for future posts.

Users can click an icon to the right of any post on their profile or news feed to determine who can currently see the content. If they created the post they may change it’s privacy setting retroactively, and if it appears on their profile they can remove it without actually deleting the tag of them.

If someone else owns the post, knowing who’ll see feedback left on it will let users decide if they’re comfortable leaving a comment. There will also be a privacy setting that allows users to retroactively change the privacy of all the content they’ve posted on Facebook.

Photo Tags Removal and Attribution

Facebook says that over 100 million photo tags are added by users each day. This may increase, as users will also be able to tag people that aren’t their friends. By hovering over a tag, users can see who added it.

The company conducted research and found that a main reason users detagged themselves from photos was because they didn’t want them to appear on their profile. Users will soon be able to remove a photo from their profile without deleting the tag. This will allow them to keep track of comments and other changes to the photo without linking to it from their profile.

If users find a tag objectionable or think they are being bullied, while removing the tag they can also ask a photo’s owner to delete it from Facebook, or block that user.

Education to Instill Confidence

Users don’t just want enhanced privacy, they want a more consistent and intuitive experience. Facebook will need to work hard to ensure users understand the changes, and convey that none of their privacy settings have been altered, just moved.

To educate users, Facebook will accompany the rollout of the changes with tool tips detailing new features the first time users see them. It has also published newexplanation pages for profile privacy controlsthe publisher, and location sharing.

Privacy has been Facebook’s biggest problem to date. A lack of confidence in the site’s privacy settings has scared away new users, frustrated existing users, and kept people from sharing more sensitive content. If Facebook can combine technological and design solutions with reassurance that users are in control of their online presence, it could leave its troubles behind and refocus on making users happy rather than preventing them from feeling overwhelmed or suspicious.

Posted by: Jeff Pulvino
Original article by: Josh Constine 


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