Wow – what a time for Facebook.
Yesterday we noted that The Social Network had already started to add in additional privacy and transparency tools to help reassure users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, with more likely on the way. Now, Facebook has indeed moved on that, rolling out a refresh of their personal data options to give users more direct control over the information they upload, and how it’s used on the platform.
Here’s what’s been announced:
Improved Settings Layout
As noted by Facebook:
“We’ve redesigned our entire settings menu on mobile devices from top to bottom to make things easier to find. Instead of having settings spread across nearly 20 different screens, they’re now accessible from a single place.”
The image above shows a comparison of the old settings menu (left) and the new layout on the right. As you can see, with the addition of specific icons and listings, it’s now easier for users to understand what exactly each element relates to, and how to use them to control your Facebook presence. Facebook says they’ve also ‘cleaned up outdated settings’ making is clearer what information you’re sharing with connected apps.
This is a key step – Facebook got into trouble by enabling third party tools to access your Facebook data, so the key to assuring users that the same won’t happen again is to give them more direct control, to enable each person to use their own discretion over what types of insights they share.
This is in addition to Facebook’s tougher restrictions on the data they make available to each developer, which they implemented back in 2014, largely eliminating the type of mass data harvesting which lead to the Cambridge Analytica case.
Updated Privacy Shortcuts
Facebook’s also making it easier for users to find, and understand, their privacy settings.
“People have also told us that information about privacy, security, and ads should be much easier to find. The new Privacy Shortcuts is a menu where you can control your data in just a few taps, with clearer explanations of how our controls work.”
As you can see here, the new layout makes it easier to understand each individual section, and what you can control.
The options listed are:
- Ad Preferences – Lists all the data that Facebook uses to target you with ads, including the types of content you’re likely interested in, based on your Facebook activity
- Privacy – Manage who sees your posts and the information available to each audience on your Facebook profile
- Account Security – Here you can add in elements like two-factor authentication to keep your account safe from hackers
- Personal Information – Here, you can review all that you’ve shared on Facebook, and remove anything you no longer want on your profile, including posts you’ve shared or reacted to and things you’ve searched for
These tools have always existed, but not everyone understands what they can and can’t manage. Most people, it seems, don’t bother to go through such settings, but with the renewed emphasis on privacy and data-sharing, highlighting the options, and making them easier to understand, could help further reassure users and ease their concerns.
The last element Facebook’s looking to highlight is the capacity to download all your Facebook data, enabling you to see exactly what Zuck and Co have on you.
“It’s one thing to have a policy explaining what data we collect and use, but it’s even more useful when people see and manage their own information. Some people want to delete things they’ve shared in the past, while others are just curious about the information Facebook has. So we’re introducing Access Your Information – a secure way for people to access and manage their information, such as posts, reactions, comments, and things you’ve searched for.”
Again, Facebook has offered this for some time, but highlighting it more specifically should give users a little more comfort. Basically, Facebook’s saying ‘there are no secrets here’, there’s no hidden tracking or dubious attempts to harvest your personal information without your consent. You are in control of what you share.
The measures are the best response Facebook can provide to the latest controversy – but as we’ve noted previously, a significant part of the broader problem lies in a) people not necessarily understanding what such data can actually be used for, and b) updating such in retrospect, after the data has already been harvested by third parties.
On the first point, giving people access to their full Facebook data is great, but they may not see why it matters that Facebook is tracking their actions – so what if Facebook knows that you like ‘Coca-Cola’ and ‘motorcycles’? And such things don’t matter, not in isolation – but on a broad enough scale (say, 2 billion users) each of those Likes can be more indicative of your personal leanings than you might realize.
For example, only a certain number of people are going to Like ‘Coca Cola’, ‘Motorcycles’ and a random combination of 50 other things. But those that do may be more susceptible to certain types of messaging. By cross-referencing Likes with psychological insights – the way the researchers behind the Cambridge Analytica data did – each of your personal actions becomes more important, and can be highly indicative of your leanings. But you wouldn’t know it from the basic information.
On the second note, once the data is out, it’s out. Facebook won’t be able to get back all that research, all those insights – the information that was used in this case is still going to be available in some form, and will still remain indicative. All Facebook can do is add in new measures, but the information used in this case is already available. Changing your settings in retrospect will have little effect.
That said, there isn't much more Facebook can do – these measures are the best they can enact, and you can expect them to keep adding in more transparency and data tools to help users understand how they can maintain control over their personal information.
Will that be enough to regain audience trust? Facebook will be hoping, as the roar of criticism continues through the media.
A Week of Pain
Further compounding Facebook’s woes, Playboy Magazine has also announced that it’s quitting Facebook due to concerns over their data policies.
This follows Elon Musk removing the SpaceX and Tesla Facebook accounts (but again, not their Instagram profiles), while British band Massive Attack also announced that they were shutting down their Facebook presence. High profile exits can only hurt Facebook’s standing, and further erode user trust - which is why it’s essential for Facebook to act fast and roll out these new privacy controls and options.
On this front, Facebook’s also trying out additional, more visible measures to give users more control, with comment privacy options now being tested with some users.
The furore has also forced Facebook to re-think its product roadmap – reports have suggested that they’re now pushing back the launch of their planned smart home device over concerns users won’t be as accepting of the option at this stage, while when it is launched, it may also come with increased data protection, keeping your personal information on the device itself, rather than uploading it to Facebook’s servers.
Add to this the fact that the company is being sued over the collection of call logs on Android devices, and that Zuckerberg himself has become the focus of various governmental requests, and it’s very clear that this is Facebook’s biggest ever crisis – one which could see the platform take a backwards step.
There’s a lot to play out on this front, there’s much more to come on the Facebook data scandal, and you can expect to see even more efforts from The Social Network as it works to win back its audience base, and underline that it can be a tool for societal good, not psychological manipulation.
Will this be the beginning of the end for Facebook, or merely another bump in the road for the platform?