Facebook unveiled a new basic dashboard for managing privacy today and provided a way for users to turn off all third-party applications. It came after nearly a month of criticism from privacy advocacy groups, the media and lawmakers who were concerned that the company had made people’s likes and interests public and automatically shared data about them with special third parties in a new instant personalization program.

So how did Facebook’s privacy changes come about internally? Vice president of product Chris Cox explained how the company came to terms with the problems users pointed out in their privacy controls. (If you’re curious, we also have a basic overview of what’s different here and Mark Zuckerberg’s take on the privacy changes here.)

VentureBeat: When did you start building these tools?

Cox: It started happening right after the f8 conference. We saw a great response, but users started to get confused. We found that we had to start clearing up issues and explaining that CNN was not getting your data through the social plug-ins.

As feedback started coming in, we started seeing that the deeper underlying issue was not a communication issue. We just needed to simplify a number of controls to a level that my mom could understand. We needed to build something that let people see an overview of everything and so we set out with a goal of addressing the concrete issues, giving people certain controls back and letting them opt-out of having third parties access their data.

We spent the last two weeks building these controls in a conference room. It started with four to five people and then expanded to the entire engineering and product team.

VB: Who led the effort?

Cox: Mark Zuckerberg. There were a bunch of other important people too on the engineering team. Mike Schroepfer was one. But Mark was the primary driver. We worked with a bunch of advocacy groups and listened to criticism. Then we talked to friends and parents because we wanted to know what they could understand.

VB: How did the maze of privacy controls even happen to begin with?

Cox: We built the granularity as we built the product up. We just kept adding stuff and we didn’t get much feedback until the last month. It just drew a lot more attention to previous changes we had made.

[Photo: Brian Solis]