Facebook to Simplify Privacy Settings and Hope It’s Enough

Facebook has simplified some of its user privacy controls down to “a couple of clicks,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg, facing the music earlier today after a month of controversy. Zuckerberg admitted that the recent settings were too complicated, broke the changes down into a few topical sections, and stated that Facebook users will be informed of them in a home page message.

“We’ve only ever done a few announcements at the top of the home page in the history of the company,” he said. “So this is something we take really seriously.”

During the 75-minute afternoon press conference, Zuckerberg revealed that users will be able to more easily set all of the content they post to either “Everyone,” “Friends of Friends,” or “Just Friends.” In other words, going through the granular “Customize” module for particular types of information will no longer be necessary. He said the settings will work retroactively with regard to past status updates or posts on the social site and will apply to new Facebook products going forward.

“We are rolling this out over the next couple of months,” Zuckerberg said. “It will be fully out, I think, by the end of June.”

Meanwhile, the more granular options currently seen in the “Customize” module will still be available, letting users dictate which content or data can be accessed on an item-by-item basis.

Facebook is also reducing the amount of basic information that must be set to public; that information will now only include name and gender. And the ability for third-parties to see a user’s friends and pages will be controlled by the user, Zuckerberg said. Such controls will be available through a link, “Basic Directory Information,” which will be located at the top of the privacy page, he said.

During his prepared remarks, the CEO recommended that users make these settings open to everyone so their friends can find them online. Later on in a Q&A with reporters, he added, “People really want to share more information, if they have controls over [it]. And I really think that’s where the world is going.”

In addition, Zuckerberg said that turning off the ability for applications and websites to access any user information would also become a one-or-two-click process. By “any information,” it appeared he was addressing personally identifiable information (name, address, phone number, etc.) and not so-called anonymously collected data attached to a user ID.

Zuckerberg said that it will be easier to turn off the Instant Personalization program, too – though the default for users remains opt-in. After the presentation, a Facebook spokesperson explained in greater detail to ClickZ how the new policy will affect that program.

“Users can now choose not to share any of their public information with partner sites with a single click – and still be able to use other platform applications,” the spokesperson said. “This click will also prevent sites from accessing a person’s information when their friends interact with the sites. This set of privacy controls was available before; however, it required that the person visit the ‘About’ page for each site’s application and block it individually. Additionally, if a person turns off Instant Personalization, any new sites that are added to the program will also not be able to access his or her information through Instant Personalization.”





While also attempting to put to bed a “misperceived” idea that user information was shared with advertisers, Zuckerberg explained that Facebook.com ads were targeted by his company and not third-party marketers. “We don’t give any information to advertisers,” the CEO said. “It doesn’t matter who you are sharing your information with… It doesn’t affect the ads at all.”

Addressing the perception that advertising dollars are his main goal, he said, “Anyone who knows me knows that’s ridiculous.” His appearance also included an intriguing – if rambling – explanation about how Facebook Connect or “Log-in with Facebook” can help third-party websites.

“There’s the topic of data portability,” Zuckerberg said. “People own their own information. That means not only should they have control over how it works on Facebook, but they should be able to take it to other services, too, if they want.” He continued, “Once they bring it to another service, then that service can ultimately use it to compete with us and target ads… So by doing what we are doing to push data portability forward and make these platforms more interoperable, we are actually helping other people compete with us in advertising… It’s always a debate between us and the sales folks about how far we can go. That’s an important point that I believe is often misperceived.”

Finally, when asked if the recent privacy brouhaha has affected plans for the forthcoming geo-locations application his company is expected to soon launch, the CEO replied: “We’re really going to try to not have another backlash.”

Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.

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