Facebook's 'Simple' Privacy: A Little Underwhelming

Lora Bentley
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If Facebook can remember these five facts about user privacy, their headaches may begin to fade.

At 10:30 a.m. PT Wednesday, Facebook held a press conference to reveal its new, "simpler" privacy controls, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg says will roll out over the next few days.


According to CNET's live blog of the announcement, Zuckerberg said the changes boil down to three:

First, we've built one simple control to set who can see the content you post...Second we've reduced the amount of basic information that must be visible to everyone and we are removing the connections privacy model...Third, we've made it simple to control whether applications and Web sites can access any of your information.


After a look at the official blog post announcing the changes, CNET blogger Declan McCullagh pointed out that Facebook plans to keep the new privacy controls "for a long time" if users find them helpful. The question then presented, as McCullagh also noted, is how does Facebook plan to determine whether users find the changes helpful? Company leaders thought they knew that customers wanted more granularity in privacy controls, after all, and that turned out to be way off base.


For all that Zuckerberg did say, he didn't indicate exactly how the company would gauge user response, other than to say they would listen. He noted that the company had received feedback from legislators and privacy advocates, and that those things were considered when deciding how to modify the privacy controls.


So what changed? Fifty controls with 170-plus options have been reduced to less than 15 controls. But until the changes are rolled out to more users, there's no telling whether they will prove to be enough to appease them. Many of those who commented on CNET's coverage were disappointed that Facebook is still making everything "opt-out" rather than "opt-in," which makes more sense from a user perspective.


Others pointed out that even though Facebook has "fixed" many of the things people had issues with and has reportedly sworn off the constant "tweaking" of the controls, they aren't sure they can really trust the company anymore. And at least one said the changes were too little too late and he wants out as soon as possible.


Whether today's announcement will be enough to satisfy legislators and regulators also remains to be seen.

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