Facebook says new privacy tweaks will make it easier to control your data

28 Mar 2018

Facebook privacy menu. Image: Facebook

Facebook announces a series of privacy changes to be rolled out over the coming weeks.

Facebook announced today (28 March) that it will be adding a number of changes in the next number of weeks to help users feel more in control of their personal data.

The changes are mostly visual alterations to the interface in order to make the privacy settings more accessible – Facebook has been criticised in the past for its labyrinthine privacy settings, hidden deep within the interface.

Facebook said the new settings had been in the works prior to the Cambridge Analytica scandal breaking, but the timing certainly underscores their importance.

Simpler privacy interface

The privacy settings on mobile devices are easier to find, according to VP and chief privacy officer Erin Egan, and VP and deputy general counsel Ashlie Beringer. “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. We’ve also cleaned up outdated settings so it’s clear what information can and can’t be shared with apps.”

Facebook also unveiled a new privacy shortcuts menu, where users can control their data and read clearer explanations of how the company’s data controls work. Within the menu, users can review and delete what they have shared, manage ad preferences, and control who sees their page, among other features.

Data deletion tools

Facebook is also debuting tools to find, download and delete your data.

Egan and Beringer said: “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 and comments, and things you’ve searched for. You can go here to delete anything from your timeline or profile that you no longer want on Facebook.”

They added: “We’re also making it easier to download the data you’ve shared with Facebook – it’s your data, after all. You can download a secure copy and even move it to another service. This includes photos you’ve uploaded, contacts you’ve added to your account, posts on your timeline and more.”

Facebook said it would update its data policy to better spell out what data it collects and how it uses it. “These updates are about transparency – not about gaining new rights to collect, use or share data,” Egan and Beringer concluded.

Facebook last made changes to its privacy controls in January as part of its preparations for the enforcement of GDPR. The company has also delayed the launch of its own voice-controlled smart speaker.

GDPR compliance initiatives

Julian Saunders, CEO and founder of data management company PORT.im, spoke about the changes to Siliconrepublic.com. “You could argue that Facebook are simply doing what they were already legally obliged to do to comply with GDPR in Europe.

“It is also hard to see how these changes tackle the main issue of third parties misusing personal information collected on Facebook. It may improve consumer confidence in Facebook but I’m sceptical it will tackle some of the fundamental privacy and data control problems that are built into Facebook’s platform.

“Moves to improve transparency over how data is used and to increase control over personal information should always be supported. However, we are working off a very low base. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Facebook’s proposed privacy update is that it may make GDPR the global standard for data privacy, which would be fantastic news for consumers.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects