Facebook Overhauls Privacy Settings (So People Will Actually Use Them)

Reactions to Facebook’s many redesigns have varied from revolts and petitions, to acknowledgment that the changes led to a better experience. But one consistent gripe has been that the privacy settings were too complex to be useful. Trying to share a blog post, vacation pictures or video clips with a certain group of friends meant clicking through multiple privacy pages and options. So Facebook has overhauled all the privacy settings to make them simple enough for people to use; the changes will roll out site-wide over the next three weeks.

What’s new: A “unified” privacy control page that narrows sharing options to just five categories: users can share content with everyone; with just friends; with friends and authenticated networks (like a school or work group); with friends of friends (ideal for posting group photos, according to product manager Leah Perlman), and of course, a custom group (like family). This means users no longer need to view more than 6 separate pages to manage various privacy settings. Facebook has also deleted “regional” networks, since Perlman said less than half of all users actively used them — and that they’d become “irrelevant” once the site expanded beyond just college and work friends.

What’s the same: The most recent changes, which let users choose which of their friends to share info with right before they publish it, will remain. Chris Kelly, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, also maintained that the privacy changes “had nothing to do” with the user info that gets shared with advertisers.

The timeline: Users will be prompted with a “transition tool” upon login that explains how changing the settings will impact who gets to see what. The first week is a test with 40,000 users (U.S. only); week two expands internationally to 80,000 users; the following week all users will be exposed.