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Facebook's New Privacy Guide Explained

New Facebook Controls Revealed
Responding to user backlash, Facebook today unveiled its overhauled Privacy Controls. On first look, it's a radically different set of tools with a redesign control setup than what you're used to. The now "classic" granular settings are still in place, but a new set of umbrella options lets you quickly change several options at once as a first line of privacy defense. The strategy appears to be centered on making users more comfortable with their sharing settings, while providing more control over their online profiles. History has shown us that Facebook changes like this are never easy, so while the changes won't roll out for a few weeks, read on to learn how to use the new controls when they arrive.

Privacy Tool Makeover

Changes in Privacy Guide
The first thing you'll notice about the new privacy controls is how much simpler they are to navigate. Gone are the series of menus and pages that could have you clicking and digging for hours just to unearth every possible setting, and in their place will rise a single page with expandable menus, bringing all of your privacy settings to one place. This includes everything from sharing content and contact info to managing applications. Both the new, simplified, catch-all controls and the now-classic, granular Facebook settings are accessible from the same page.

I. Content Control

Sharing on Facebook
The new streamlined privacy settings page has four basic categories for choosing what you share, with whom and when. First is basic directory information. This is the info publicly displayed so that others can identify you. Facebook has reduced the information that is required to be shared with everyone to just your name, gender, networks and profile photo (if you have one). Other information, such as activities and hometown, are shared by default, but the user has the option to hide that data.

Share on FacebookThe "sharing on Facebook" option allows you to set a default privacy level for both past and future postings. You can choose to share with everyone, friends of friends, or friends only. In the past, setting all of your sharing to the same level would have required changing several options in multiple menus, and on separate pages. The one-stop control means that users should no longer discover they're sharing certain information with the world at large, since a base level for all information is visible and easily changed. The fine-grained control over how to share specific portions of your profile are still in place, should you choose to use them, only now they're conveniently located in one place.

II. Revised Controls for Apps and Websites

app request The applications settings are also being moved to the new privacy dashboard with options to set the same privacy options across all applications. Like the master control for sharing, your application and website settings (which includes what information is available to search engines) can be broken down to individual apps and sites for more fine-tuned control, but the catch-all setting means you're less likely to be surprised by what data sites are granted access by default. The new app and website settings also encompass the incredibly creepy "what your friends can share about you" options.

If you prefer to not use any apps or to not connect Facebook with other sites, there is now an option to completely opt out of the Facebook platform, as well as turn off the Instant Personalization features. Changing these options affects not only what you share, but what your friends can share too. Additionally, deleting an application forcefully expunges any information about you that may have been held by that app. That means if you turn off the platform on accident (which should be very hard to do), you'll have to start all over again on 'FarmVille.' (Nuts.)

Lastly, all apps, users and friends you've chosen to block (to whatever degree) are available in a single, universal block list. So blocking an application and preventing a friend from sending you invites to that app no longer requires visiting separate pages.

III. Where to from here?

Without access to the new privacy tools yet, it's hard to judge Facebook's success in its attempt to address these serious user concerns. Unlike previous backlashes the social network has suffered, which primarily focused on design choices, the recent outcry over the default privacy settings and the convoluted process of changing them is perfectly justified. But Mark Zuckerberg's willingness to admit the site's mistakes and the speed at which the issue was addressed gives us hope that we won't have to delete our accounts (something that has been seriously considered by a few of us at the Switched offices recently).

That Facebook went the extra step and had outside parties, including a member of the Senate and several privacy and consumer advocacy groups, vet the changes shows that Zuckerberg is not merely paying lip service to his customer base. Despite some of our recent Facebook bashing, it's clear the privacy issues were taken very seriously. Zuck was right to assume that, because of the confusing nature of the privacy settings, many users felt like they were no longer in control. And in the end, Facebook's business model is based on getting users to share information, links and interests. If they (and we) aren't comfortable, the company's bottom line will suffer.

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