Facebook released a new, simpler set of privacy controls today and curbed the amount of publicly available information about users. It’s part of the company’s response to increasing criticism from privacy groups and the media over a series of decisions during the past six months that have made user data progressively more public.
Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said engineers and designers had been holed up inside company conference rooms building the controls over the past few weeks as criticism grew and as lawmakers wrote letters to the company asking it to reconsider recent changes.
“The main thing we’ve taken away from this is to simplify the controls,” said Zuckerberg, who chronicled the company’s historical attempts at building privacy settings. “We have a strong opinion on the way we think things should go, but we always listen to feedback from users and watch the data.”
There is now a new front-page for privacy controls (although the original tangle of 170 privacy options is there behind it). The new privacy home-screen lets users toggle between friends, friends of friends or everyone. It applies retroactively to all previously shared content and to all new products going forward.
The company has also reduced the amount of information available publicly. Friends and pages (or people’s connections and interests) can be restricted. But people’s names, profile picture, networks and gender are still considered public.
Users can also completely turn off platform applications and websites in a change that could frustrate third-party developers who have seen their primary communication channels to users curbed over the past year. “Applications are going to have dramatically restricted access to your information. They’ll get what anyone can see publicly on the site, but they’ll have to specifically ask users for more information,” he said.
The company also said it made it easier to turn off instant personalization (a program that automatically shares user data with other “pre-approved” partners), but didn’t change the opt-out nature of the program.
“Specifically we’ve heard that it’s too confusing to turn off this program. We looked at it and agreed. Now there’s one check box and it locks out information that friends can share when they use instant personalization,” he said.
Zuckerberg said the company is always analyzing how many people are leaving the service, how they’re sharing information and how many people they’re inviting. He said the company had seen no material change in the number of users leaving the site.
“A bigger meme among the user base is actually one about whether we might start charging for the site,” Zuckerberg said. “A much larger number of people have posted status updates about this concern than about privacy.”
He said the company tracks a special metric called “net promoter score,” which measures whether people are willing to recommend Facebook to their friends.
“Whenever we make a change, the net promoter score always goes down. But it will usually recover to a higher place than it was at before,” he said. “So when we started rolling out these changes after f8, our net promoter score went down. And we thought it was because of the privacy issues. But what we found was that it actually went down because we made changes to our news feed algorithm that changed whether people were likely to see photos or content from games.”