Facebook’s new privacy and sharing defenses (they are quite nice)

Mark Zuckerberg is the smartest social thinker I’ve met on my journey through life. He’s frequently misunderstood because he’s, well, generally too far in front of us. I remember meeting Doug Engelbart, the guy who invented the mouse (and showed it to us back in 1967 — way before Apple shipped the first consumer machine in 1984 that used it).

Engelbart got kicked out of the research lab (SRI) where he developed the mouse because, well, his ideas were too weird for the time (Engelbart told me that he was kicked out because his fellow researchers couldn’t grok that everyone would have a computer in their pockets eventually). Zuckerberg will also be judged that way. He saw a world where everyone would need a social graph. I remember when people made fun of Facebook employees for saying that.

But one thing I admire about Zuckerberg is he’s a great learner. When people bashed him for being too far out in front of us, he drops back and does what people want before pushing ahead again. Today is such an example.

Zuckerberg understands that the use case of Facebook is for folks to talk to their PRIVATE families and friends. Most people who love Facebook are like my wife. Just want to talk to their friends and family and post a bunch of kid photos, or life photos. That user doesn’t understand, or care about, folks like me who want to build a public brand and find people around the world I don’t really know who are interested in the same thing I am. Yes, there are a lot of those out there, as this post on Google+ demonstrates, but most really don’t want to do that, they just want to talk to a small group of friends and family. I see this as my dad joined Facebook earlier this year. He doesn’t understand why anyone would use Facebook to talk to strangers or why anyone would want to post stuff to the public.

So, what did Facebook announce this morning?

Several things that will greatly appeal to its user base:

1. They greatly simplified their UI so folks can figure out groups a lot more.
2. They are giving users a lot more control over what gets on their feed, particularly when they are tagged in a photo.
3. You now can see what a profile looks like to another user.
4. A much simpler privacy page.
5. User education to help users figure out privacy settings.
6. It is very easy to figure out the groups each post, photo, or video is shared with.

Google+ users will recognize three of those features (the simplified “circles” UI, the nicer posted and shared with UI, and the profile preview one), since they’ve had them for six weeks. That’s why I like competition in this world, keeps teams motivated and working on making sure users don’t have any reasons to switch to each other (Editorial aside: Google will do well if it focuses on capturing the interest graph but will never capture the social graph — as long as Facebook keeps matching Google’s best features, like they did today, there’s no way most of its users will switch).

So, let’s move through these new features and what they mean to users.

1. Content tag review.

Facebook's new privacy and sharing features

and

Facebook's new privacy and sharing features

This is my favorite new feature. I’ve been seeing spam on Facebook as people tag me in photos that I’m not in. This lets me be in control of what gets onto my wall. Here’s how. Each tag is held in moderation until I approve it. It’s easy to figure out and it’s easy to approve the tags I want to.

Even if you make a mistake and approve a tag that doesn’t make sense, or say, later you want to remove yourself from all of your ex-girlfriend’s photos or ex-wives’ photos, you can. Just go to the tag and click X to remove the link between you and her.

This is far superior to how Google+ allows tags. For instance, here’s a photo I just was tagged in on Google+. Notice the complete lack of these kinds of controls.

Also, on Facebook each tag is now attributed to the person who made the tag. Google+ is way behind here.

2. View profile as.

Facebook's new privacy and sharing features

This lets you see what your profile looks like, to, say, your best friend, or some total stranger. That way you can make sure that your private photo of you getting drunk at that bachelor party last weekend actually is only viewable by your best friends and not by people you don’t want to see that photo, like maybe your boss or your wife.

3. Easier to figure out who is able to see each piece of content.

Facebook's new privacy and sharing features

Google+ users have had this since day one, with the UI that shows which circle each post is shared with, but now 750 million Facebook users have the same thing. Underneath each post now you can see who can see each item. You can even change this after the fact. Just click on this icon and change the setting.

Those are the three screen shots Facebook shared with me. You’ll have to wait for the features to be turned on on your account (they say these features should roll out throughout the userbase “pretty quickly” — they didn’t want to give me an exact timeframe, since last time they announced major feature changes they took many weeks to hit all the users). But in my briefing they showed me a much simpler privacy page. Dramatically simpler. No longer do you have long lists, but just a few settings to figure out. Also, they showed me a page which is aimed at newer users, that will explain the consequences of each privacy page.

So, add all these things up, and I’m sure lots of journalists will say that the threat from Google+ has been largely neutered because of these changes. That is absolutely true. Users are freaked out about privacy and, because of Facebook’s public image, many have spent a lot of time making sure that their accounts are locked down and that they aren’t sharing info to people who might be able to use that stuff against them.

I think these settings may have the opposite effect. It might get Facebook users to relax a bit and start sharing SOME items with a wider group of people, which would improve that service a lot and could help it stave off the very real threat that Google+ does still represent: that some other company will build out the more lucrative interest graph before they do. But Google hasn’t demonstrated that it is able to keep up with the features of Facebook and it hasn’t turned on real-time search, noise filtering, sifting, or, tons of other features that are needed yet, so the race is on. Who will get there first? Google or Facebook? Today’s announcements show that the race is gonna be interesting at minimum.

By the way, I’m discussing this on both Google+ (here) and on Facebook (here)

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

66 thoughts on “Facebook’s new privacy and sharing defenses (they are quite nice)

  1. “Underneath each post now you can see who can see each item. You can even change this after the fact.”

    The fact, that a content publisher can change visibility of the post after that post is made is – in my opinion – fundamentally wrong, because people who then comment can never be sure who would see their comments.

    On Google+ they made a principal decision that ACL (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Access_control_list) stays unchanged once a post is made (although it’s generally possible to add individual users with “@-reference”.) Roberto Bayardo from Google http://goo.gl/I8crR explained it to me.

  2. I must admit, I am totally one of those who is resistant to any changes Facebook makes. But….I always end up like them

  3. I don’t like all the tech blog posts about Facebook giving up on the location game, or that Foursquare beat them. They’re not giving up. They’re just trying a different approach. One that may make FB even more location friendly than the check-in approach they’ve been using up until now. I’m anxious for these changes to take effect.

  4. Great share Rob. I really appreciate your understanding of who is using Facebook and why these changes are so important for our loved ones and the every day FB user. Thanks Rob for sharing.

  5. Some of you people are f***ing stupid. If anything, Google+ is a copy of Facebook, not the other way round. Undoubtedly, G+ has better UI and improvements upon some of FB’s key features – but they are derivative of FB. Who do you think has greater control of the Internet – Google or Facebook? Facebook’s a major player in social networking – but Google’s got their monopolizing vines in search, mobile (Motorola, anyone?), and many, many more areas. Wake up and smell the hegemony, you bunch of sheep.

    1. You’re forgetting that facebook is a copy of MySpace, Friendster, BBS, Email, etc…

      All facebook did was put a better interface on it, and now Google is doing the same thing.  They’ve nailed some of the aspects of social networking much better than facebook, and now facebook has to copy them.

  6. Thanks for the update!  I’m really glad they are making things easier. For the longest time I couldnt figure out how to write on someone elses Wall, I kept writing on mine and wondering why they never wrote back.  And I do think I’m pretty tech Savy..Just somehthings confuse me to no end!  Funny about your dad..Mine says “He doesnt understand why all these people want to be my friend..they arent my friends”.  I dont think he’s posted, but he has been on there for about a year.
     

  7. I kind of agree.
    On the one hand it is somewhat impressive that the behemoth can be so agile and respond so quickly.
    On the other, it is very sad that it took the threat of competition to push into making these changes.

  8. Even though I know I miss out on loads of stuff that family and friends share on FB, closing my account was the right choice for me. Why? FB kept moving the goalposts; they kept (and will keep) redefining what “privacy” means, as today’s announcement demonstrates.

    Is G+ lacking fine control over privacy, too? Sure; but G+ is only a few weeks old. More importantly, Google hasn’t (yet) done anything to erode my confidence – I’m pretty sure that Google will give me more fine-grained control over what points of my social graph get shared, but more importantly, I’m confident that Google’s default setting will be a clearly articulated “opt in” rather that a deeply buried “opt out”.

  9. I just paíd $22.85 for an íPad 2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasoníc Lumíx Camera that we got for $38.78 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $625 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, CeñtHub.côm

  10. so Zuck is the brightest social thinker because he can copy google ? Why not give credit instead to the unknown soldier at google who came up with those features. I’m fed up with FB as a way to promote my business (photography) when any picture I post of a scantily clad but artistically photographed woman gets banned. They should out the complainers as in” Religious Bigot” has flagged your picture as inappropriate.. what would you like to do Remove Picture, Remove Tag, Block Religious Bigot.

  11. Very glad to see these changes… Now tagging and posting and untagging will be done without worry on what gets posted to your profile. But that just means more “content to curate!” lol just what people want to do on Facebook, right? :-)

  12. This is a much needed response, no doubt, and Facebook, despite the Google+ advantages will remain the 800 pounder for the foreseeable future. Personally, though, one major advantage Google+ has is the ease of initiating new relationships. Facebook is just not very good at initiating the  social handshake. Part of that is technology (the mutual request), but a lot more of it is cultural. Google+ users in general seem to be more inclined to engage with relative strangers, and for me, at least, there’s zero built-in resistance to circle someone I’m even moderately interested in. I’m much more reluctant to reach out to a relative stranger on Facebook as it just feels more stalker-like. I don’t think it’s going to be as easy for Facebook to fix that issue as it is for them to make some tech changes. Culture change is notoriously harder than technical change.

    1. Sterling, good observation. Facebook is for introverts. Google+ is for extroverts. I want to learn new things and interact with interesting people, not be nagged about inappropriate outreach behavior by an automated system.

    1. Perhaps, but most of these other things being discussed are fairly straight-forward design choices or able to be done readily with available coding and tools.
      Hangouts is much more of a technically challenging feature.
      It isn’t something they can just implement because they think it is a good idea.
      It is very much a technical and engineering challenge.
      One which they may or may not be able to pull off.
      We’ll see.

  13. I will never go back to Facebook because pushing the boundary of responsible business practice when it comes to privacy is at the heart of the company. I am just not interested in being a test subject in privacy abuse, and now I have a very real option not to be, thanks to Google+.

    I am thrilled that Google+ was able to force Facebook into offering their users a better service, and am very excited to see how insane the pace of innovation can get. 

    For me, the one thing Google+ has that Facebook will never have is very high quality conversations about topics I am passionate about. The fact of the matter is, not many of my friends are into technology, so Facebook and Twitter are little more than daily activity update platforms for topics I care very little about. Sorry dad, I do not care what you cat is doing every second of the day.

    Oh and Robert, thank you so much for not forcing me to comment with my Facebook or Twitter account. It seems to be the trend for tech news sites and I hate it.

  14. I believe the problem is that there is no context on facebook.  Car forums are a gathering place for car enthusiasts, same with diy sites, or anything else with a theme.  Facebook is trying to be the everything site where they want you to create your car groups etc inside.  The only problem is there’s already a place for that, and it’s called the internet.  

    Zuckerberg isn’t forward thinking he’s holding us back.  He wants to control everything.  Forward thinking would be figuring out ways to decentralize this communication so you owned what you put online and got to choose who saw it.  When you break down the functionality of Facebook, now that it has a huge mass of the population, it is just email 2.0.  All you’re doing is sending messages to friends in a different format than facebook.  

    I know I’m not going to convince you, Scoble, but Facebook was incredible as a college site if it stayed that way (it would have had context), and great at figuring out what people would like to share, however, as the internet inside the internet it is one of the worst things that could have happened.  Stifled innovation, almost no design options, and harsh rules to surrender too.

    This doesn’t mean that NO innovation has come from it or companies haven’t been built on it, but as a whole and when we look back we’ll all say “I can’t believe we used to think facebook was so great.”

  15. I believe the problem is that there is no context on facebook.  Car forums are a gathering place for car enthusiasts, same with diy sites, or anything else with a theme.  Facebook is trying to be the everything site where they want you to create your car groups etc inside.  The only problem is there’s already a place for that, and it’s called the internet.  

    Zuckerberg isn’t forward thinking he’s holding us back.  He wants to control everything.  Forward thinking would be figuring out ways to decentralize this communication so you owned what you put online and got to choose who saw it.  When you break down the functionality of Facebook, now that it has a huge mass of the population, it is just email 2.0.  All you’re doing is sending messages to friends in a different format than facebook.  

    I know I’m not going to convince you, Scoble, but Facebook was incredible as a college site if it stayed that way (it would have had context), and great at figuring out what people would like to share, however, as the internet inside the internet it is one of the worst things that could have happened.  Stifled innovation, almost no design options, and harsh rules to surrender too.

    This doesn’t mean that NO innovation has come from it or companies haven’t been built on it, but as a whole and when we look back we’ll all say “I can’t believe we used to think facebook was so great.”

  16. I believe the problem is that there is no context on facebook.  Car forums are a gathering place for car enthusiasts, same with diy sites, or anything else with a theme.  Facebook is trying to be the everything site where they want you to create your car groups etc inside.  The only problem is there’s already a place for that, and it’s called the internet.  

    Zuckerberg isn’t forward thinking he’s holding us back.  He wants to control everything.  Forward thinking would be figuring out ways to decentralize this communication so you owned what you put online and got to choose who saw it.  When you break down the functionality of Facebook, now that it has a huge mass of the population, it is just email 2.0.  All you’re doing is sending messages to friends in a different format than facebook.  

    I know I’m not going to convince you, Scoble, but Facebook was incredible as a college site if it stayed that way (it would have had context), and great at figuring out what people would like to share, however, as the internet inside the internet it is one of the worst things that could have happened.  Stifled innovation, almost no design options, and harsh rules to surrender too.

    This doesn’t mean that NO innovation has come from it or companies haven’t been built on it, but as a whole and when we look back we’ll all say “I can’t believe we used to think facebook was so great.”

  17. I believe the problem is that there is no context on facebook.  Car forums are a gathering place for car enthusiasts, same with diy sites, or anything else with a theme.  Facebook is trying to be the everything site where they want you to create your car groups etc inside.  The only problem is there’s already a place for that, and it’s called the internet.  

    Zuckerberg isn’t forward thinking he’s holding us back.  He wants to control everything.  Forward thinking would be figuring out ways to decentralize this communication so you owned what you put online and got to choose who saw it.  When you break down the functionality of Facebook, now that it has a huge mass of the population, it is just email 2.0.  All you’re doing is sending messages to friends in a different format than facebook.  

    I know I’m not going to convince you, Scoble, but Facebook was incredible as a college site if it stayed that way (it would have had context), and great at figuring out what people would like to share, however, as the internet inside the internet it is one of the worst things that could have happened.  Stifled innovation, almost no design options, and harsh rules to surrender too.

    This doesn’t mean that NO innovation has come from it or companies haven’t been built on it, but as a whole and when we look back we’ll all say “I can’t believe we used to think facebook was so great.”

  18. As a note, the “View profile as…” has been available for many months — it was just sort of buried under the privacy settings.  I did always find it a nice tool to double-check that my “sensitive” circle couldn’t see things I didn’t want them to, for example.

  19. I’m more impressed with what Facebook has done in these passed few weeks than what Google has done in that time span because of the sheer size of code they are dealing with. They were changing its network dramatically while 750 million folks used it. G+ has only released several minor updates since its June 28th launch date for field trial… things like collapsing threads, abilit to rearrange your circles (oooh) etc. 
    Not many new members are joining G+ so the momentum is certainly crawled to a halt. I still believe there will be circle burnout too. I don’t have the time to determine which circles everyone belongs in. It works for our core friends and family and colleagues/clients…but that’s all.
    We need to use the plus button on profiles to follow/unfollow folks to a default circle… then we can curate if and when we want.

  20. Zuckerberg is very insightful, for a degenerate thief. Anyone who works with him, however, is buying into an empire built on theft. What a scumbag.

  21. Lame, though they are good additions, they will not kill the rise of G+. Its about time my boss cant see me getting drunk, though i would never share such a picture, cause im not that lame. G+ can easily implement such things, remember robert, G+ is still closed and adding features all the time, we have no idea what they are working on. We see only the small additions that are easy to roll out, but what they are testing is more of what i am interested in. We still haven’t seen a full roll out of business profiles either. What we know is the general function of G+ is good, and it will continue to get better. Its only the beginning and time will be the big tell. 

  22. These changes aren’t live for me yet, but I’m glad to hear that they have FINALLY listened and recognized that people are more like your mom and dad and my mom and dad than they are like us.  I am undoubtedly public, but the majority of Facebook users do not seem to be.  Thanks for the update Scoble.

  23. Good improvements. The view profile as feature has kind of been there for a while though. In privacy settings you are able to view the profile as different people but this obviously makes it much more visible. 

    1. I don’t think you are meant to find great stuff on Facebook :) Twitter and Google+ are the places for that. Personally I hope that Facebook maintains its status as the place for only family and friends. If you follow the right brands though you can still find interesting content on Facebook. I follow quite a lot of music magazines/websites and they post all their stories to Facebook and they appear in my stream.

      1. Good point.  It is who you follow for sure.  The problem is following both categories.  For me, it is too much to keep up with.  So I find myself breaking off the groups into different platforms.  Twitter for news, Facebook for social, and G+ for my main interests. 

        1. Exactly.  G+ and Twitter aren’t “social” networks.  Most of the people I follow on those I don’t know in real life at all. People like Magic Johnson or Barack Obama.  But everyone in Facebook I at least know in real life,although calling them all “Friends” is kind of strong. 

          They’ve morphed into very different use cases.

      2. Good point.  It is who you follow for sure.  The problem is following both categories.  For me, it is too much to keep up with.  So I find myself breaking off the groups into different platforms.  Twitter for news, Facebook for social, and G+ for my main interests. 

      3. Facebook doesn’t want to be just for friends and family though.  They’re trying to be the place you talk to friends and family, get your news, play games, watch movies, login to other sites, etc.  They want to control everything and be your one stop on the net.  Look at the deals they make and the companies they buy.

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