By: Benny Evangelista
Posted: Aug.23, 2011
Facebook said today it was overhauling its privacy settings to give members easier, more precise control over who sees posts, photos and other content over the vast social network.
Privacy has been a consistently sticky problem for the Palo Alto firm, which has felt the heat from privacy advocates and government regulators. And recently, Facebook faced stiffer competition from Google’s new Google+ social network, which was hailed for including a “circles” feature with easy-to-use privacy settings.
But starting Thursday, Facebook is rolling out new privacy tools that are placed with each piece of content, replacing options that are now buried in overall account settings.
Moreover, instead of vague labels such as “everyone,” which have been mistaken for a Facebook member’s social network instead of anyone on the Internet, the new system will include more precise words such as “public.”
“You have told us that ‘who can see this?’ could be clearer across Facebook, so we have made changes to make this more visual and straightforward,” Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice president of product, said in blog post.
“The main change is moving most of your controls from a settings page to being inline, right next to the posts, photos and tags they affect. Plus there are several other updates here that will make it easier to understand who can see your stuff (or your friends’) in any context,” Cox said.
While privacy advocates reserved judgment until the new settings were actually released, they were optimistic today the changes will benefit consumers.
“These changes do make me feel very confident in the direction that Facebook is going and the way they are thinking about privacy,” said Erica Newland, policy analyst for the Center for Democracy & Technology in Washington, D.C.
The new settings include:
— The ability for members to review a photo in which they have been tagged before it appears online. Currently, tagged photos would show up on a member’s profile first, requiring them to go to the photo and untag themselves.
— A dropdown menu to let members chose who can see each piece of profile information, such as hometown and photo albums. There is also a new way to view how a profile looks to others, a change from having to dive into general account settings.
— A menu for each new update that lets members chose who can see a status update or wall post, and the ability to change that setting at any time even after it is posted.
— The menu will start with selections of “public,” “friends” or “custom,” but “will be expanding over time to include smaller groups of people you may want to share with, like co-workers, friends lists you’ve created and groups you’re a member of,” Cox said.
— Facebook is also tweaking its “check in” settings for members to show where they are. The check in feature is now only available through a Facebook smart-phone app, but members will be able to add a geographic location to any status update, photo or wall post.
The changes come after Google+ let its members control individual posts right from launch. When asked if the changes were in response to Google+, Facebook said in a statement that the company has “been working on building these updates over the last few months and, as we said a few weeks ago, this is launch season and we’re ready to get it out of the door.”
But Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney with San Francisco’s Electronic Frontier Foundation, noted that his organization has advocated for more intuitive privacy controls since May 2010, when Facebook didn’t have competition from Google+.
“What we’re seeing here is that there are now two major social networks that have granular levels of control when a year ago there weren’t (any),” he said.
Still, Opsahl has only seen screen shots of the changes, so “the proof is really going to be whether it works.”