Facebook responds to privacy concerns

The social media company is testing a privacy checkup message

User feedback has led Facebook to start testing a popup privacy checkup message for users when they post content. The company is also planning to enable users to set restrictions on past cover photos in the coming months.

Speaking during a videoconferencing call with media today, Facebook's United States product manager Michael Nowak acknowledged that some users felt their privacy policies had "changed too much" and Facebook hadn't "communicated about privacy as well as it could have".

"A real goal is to build a system that makes people feel comfortable sharing and confident that they understand who they are sharing information with," he said.

According to Nowak, the organisation runs 4,000 surveys a day focused on privacy. These surveys are run in 27 different languages.

"One thing we have been testing recently is called the Privacy Checkup. If you have shared posts with the public, we want to make sure that it is the right audience for you. If you have been sharing items publicly and haven't changed your privacy settings to friends only, a privacy checkup message will pop up," Nowak said.

The popup message reads `Hi.... you haven't changed who can see your status in a while'. It then asks the user if they want to choose the status to be public or to be shared with friends only.

"This is a departure for us because we understand that people who come to Facebook don't want to hear from us, they come to communicate with their friends and family," said Nowak.

"However, we think there are some cases in which it is important that we should interrupt to make sure people are sharing in the right way."

In addition, people can report a privacy issue they are having on Facebook. On the upper right hand corner on the homepage is a drop-down menu with a link to report a problem.

"Sometimes people share things on Facebook and they feel that these are shared more widely than they wanted them to be shared. I've had this experience in the past - you share something and you think only your friends can see it but you realise that someone outside of that group was able to see it or comment on it," he said.

"We need people to be in control of who they are sharing with and we are addressing this. One is those is the status update composer box. On the right hand side, it tells you that you are sharing this update with all of your friends," said Nowak.

"We can make it clear for people every time they go to post something. This is something we tested in late 2013 and we ended up pushing this out in early 2014."

He added that it is testing a similar idea on Android and iPhone devices over the next few months.

He said that the company has also received feedback from users that it could be more communicative about privacy in real time.

Facebook ran tests with a "select group" of users about the Privacy Checkup. However, he would not disclose how many users it ran the test with.

"Eighty per cent of the people who got this message said they found it useful. This is the type of thing we are going to experiment with because it can lead to a better privacy experience."

Nowak said it started testing Privacy Checkup earlier this year but would not provide any further details on when it might be rolled out to all Facebook users worldwide.

"We are not providing any specific numbers around the privacy stuff today. We're more focused on explaining our roadmap today," he said.

Cover photo

Nowak confirmed that the company will be rolling out a test to enable users to set their past cover photo to private. This was based on user feedback.

"The current cover photo will remain part of publicly available information, just like names and current profile photos. Over the coming weeks, we are going to rollout the ability to set privacy on past cover photos," he said.

"We don't think there is a single privacy experience that we can build that will make privacy perfect in all cases for everyone on the surface.

"By making improvements to the user experience, based on feedback, privacy will get better over time."

Memorial

Turning to the subject of privacy after a Facebook user dies, Facebook Australia and New Zealand head of policy Mia Garlick told Computerworld Australia that it has a process for creating a memorial account.

"Families can request your account is memorialised which lets them maintain an online memory of you.

In response to feedback from parents who wanted to get access to the [10 year anniversary of Facebook] Lookback video about a deceased son or daughter, we have rolled out a feature that will allow them access," she said.

"Alternatively, the family can ask for your account to be deleted. When your page goes into memorial status, only friends and family can still see the account."

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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