Facebook Tries to Make Amends by Easing User Access to Privacy Tools

NEWS ANALYSIS: Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg are trying to make amends to users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data breach by making it easier to view and change privacy settings.

Facebook Privacy Settings Revamped

Facebook has caught so much heat for its privacy practices, especially after the data breach that came at the hands of Cambridge Analytica, that the social network is actually making it easier to control privacy settings.

Previously, users hate to navigate through a series of pages some of which were fairly hard to find when they wanted to change their privacy settings.

Now, Facebook has created a menu item that says “Privacy Shortcuts,” which provides a central place to find and change what data Facebook is allowed to use.

What hasn’t changed, at least so far, is Facebook’s privacy policies. The company still plans to market your interests, likes and other personal data point, just as it has in the past. The difference is that now you may have little more control.

Facebook’s chief privacy officer Erin Egan and VP and deputy general counsel Ashlie Beringer jointly posted a note in the Facebook newsroom explained what was going on. “Last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies and help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data,” they said in their post. “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.”

They explained that Facebook was fighting abuse and strengthening Facebook’s policies, and one way to do that was to give users more control over their data and privacy.

“Most of these updates have been in the works for some time, but the events of the past several days underscore their importance.”

Egan and Beringer also said that Facebook is considering additional changes. “It’s also our responsibility to tell you how we collect and use your data in language that’s detailed, but also easy to understand,” they said.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll be proposing updates to Facebook’s terms of service that include our commitments to people. We’ll also update our data policy to better spell out what data we collect and how we use it. These updates are about transparency – not about gaining new rights to collect, use, or share data.”

However there is no indication that Facebook will change what it does with user’s data. It just plans to be more transparent about that they do. This will no doubt please many Facebook users, if only because they didn’t realize what Facebook was doing with their data. At least they can then decide if they want to remain active Facebook users.

And while Facebook executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, say the users gave their permission for the data that’s being used, those claims ring hollow. I never remember seeing information that describes the amount or type of data Facebook uses. Those details might exist buried deep in Facebook’s terms of service, but how many people are going to comb through all that text to find out.

This lack of transparency is a big part of what is causing Facebook so much trouble. And that trouble isn’t going away. For example, on the same day that the new privacy controls were announced, Playboy Enterprises, which said that it interacts with some 25 million people on its Facebook pages, deactivated its Facebook presence.

Perhaps more telling are the comments of Apple CEO Tim Cook, who fired a series of broadsides at Facebook and its CEO in an interview with MSNBC and Recode. When asked how Apple would handle the situation that Facebook finds itself in, Cook said that Apple would never be in such a situation.

The reason, he explained, is that Apple doesn’t monetize its customers’ data. “We could make a ton of money if our customer was our product,” Cook said. “We’ve elected not to do that. You are not our product; you are our customer; you are a jewel.”  Cook also referred to the time when Apple refused to break the encryption on an iPhone during the investigation in the aftermath of a deadly a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif. 

Cook repeated his suggestion that it was time for Facebook to be regulated. While he said that he believes the best regulation is no regulation, Facebook is beyond that point.

The mishandling of Facebook user data has resulted in a significant problem for the company which has lost billions market capitalization as the crisis drags on. Perhaps in an effort to slow the tide, Zuckerberg has agreed to testify before the House Commerce Committee in April. He’s also been asked to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee and the Senate and House Judiciary Committees.

It’s likely that Facebook will make additional changes to how it handles user data in the coming weeks. But the criticism isn’t going away, and unless Zuckerberg can point to specific steps that are more than thinly veiled excuses with the theme that users have given permission, it will only continue.

To find that Privacy Shortcuts page that Facebook announced, open the Facebook app on your phone and touch the menu button. On an iPhone it’s three horizontal lines in the lower right. That opens a list of groups and menu choices about things you’ve done on Facebook.

Scroll to the bottom of that page and you’ll find a Settings header. There you’ll see an entry for Privacy Shortcuts. Touch that. You’ll see a few basic privacy settings. Scroll to the bottom.

This is where the important stuff is. You can see topics for privacy basics and Facebook’s data policy. You should read those. But first, touch More Settings.

Finally, you’re at the place where all of the major privacy settings are controlled. Take some time and explore. This is where you can really get some level of control.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...