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Facebook is rushing out a new design for privacy settings

Mark Zuckerberg
AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
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Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Facebook announced today (March 28) that is redesigning its privacy controls to make it easier for users to access, alter, and erase the data the social network has stored about them. “Most of these updates have been in the works for some time, but the events of the past several days underscore their importance,” the company said in a statement.

Over the past several days, the beleaguered company has lost some $100 billion in market value, following news that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica harvested data from 50 million users without their permission. Although Facebook said that it stopped the practice that allowed the Trump-linked firm to collect so much personal data from the platform, the episode highlighted popular unease about the site’s obtuse privacy settings and vulnerability to scammers, fake news merchants, and other bad actors.  

The changes don’t add new privacy capabilities, instead focusing on design makeovers that aim to help users more easily navigate settings. “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find and that we must do more to keep people informed,” the company said. The changes will be gradually rolled out over the next weeks, a spokesperson told Quartz. 

Among the new changes: On mobile devices, the site’s settings are now accessible from one screen, instead of dotted around on 20 different places in the app. The spokesperson said the company is focusing on mobile because that’s where most of its users use the platform, and where the settings were most dispersed. Facebook will later apply what it learned from introducing the changes to mobile to the desktop version of the site. 

There is also a new “Privacy Shortcuts” menu, which collects the settings for privacy, security, and ads in one place, with more clear descriptions, like “Who can see my stuff?” and “How do I stop someone from bothering me?” Two-factor authentication preferences, activity logs, what ads you are shown, and sharing settings can be found in this new menu.

“Some people want to delete things they’ve shared in the past, while others are just curious about the information Facebook has,” the company said, with some understatement. A new tool dubbed “Access Your Information” collects all of a user’s activity on the site—photos, posts, reactions, comments, searches—and provides an option to delete each of those things. This is a new tool, and will be coming to users over the next several weeks, the spokesperson said. Facebook says it will also make it easier for users to download a copy of their data and take it to another site, an option required by European privacy laws that comes into effect later this year. Users will be able to decide which categories of data they want to download, and they will be able to do the whole process on their phones.

Facebook says that it will roll out even more changes in response to the Cambridge Analytica backlash. The company plans to introduce new terms of service and an updated data policy in the coming weeks. “These updates are about transparency – not about gaining new rights to collect, use, or share data,” the company said in the announcement. Mark Zuckerberg also said last week that users would soon see a tool on the top of their News Feeds that will allow them to quickly revoke the permissions of third-party apps to their data. 

This isn’t the first time Facebook has unveiled new privacy settings in response to user concerns. It debuted a redesign that promised to give users more control over their data back in 2010. ”People think that we don’t care about privacy, but that’s not true,” Zuckerberg said at the time. Yet some observers, including Quartz reporter Mike Murphy, remain skeptical.

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