Facebook privacy, simplified


May 21, 2010

Facebook is going through a bit of a rough patch lately. It was bound to happen at some point; it’s one of the largest public data repositories ever created, and its users have started to question how their data is being used.

For all the data it holds, Facebook has done an amazing job giving unprecedented control over what data users want to share with their friends or with the world. It’s an overwhelming amount of control for most users, though.

Forbes Magazine asked a few well-known designers how they’d choose to rearchitect Facebook’s privacy controls (thanks to Chris Messina for the link). While each designer provided some innovative improvements for advanced controls, I think they all miss the larger point: most users just don’t care about controlling every facet of their information. Most users want simplicity.

Users need to be comfortable while editing their information. Two ways to ease the burden on users would be to create preset privacy levels and to combine profile and privacy editing. Below are some mockups that illustrate these ideas.

Preset privacy levels

The New York Times recently reported that there are over 170 options for privacy in the current Facebook privacy system. That’s an incredible amount of control, and power users love the ability to tweak every possible setting.┬áBut what about the casual Facebook user (in other words, the vast majority of people who use the site)? Facebook needs to make privacy as easy as possible.

Facebook instead could change their main privacy screen to show an general selection screen. It would present users with a few different preset levels that would share varying levels of information on the network.

Facebook privacy presets

The “See what’s shared” links on each preset level would open a help screen with details about each piece of information.

Facebook privacy detail

This general setting would be enough for most users. Unless the user chooses the Advanced option, no other privacy management is necessary within the system.

Combined profile and privacy editing

Facebook needs to show that privacy control is a key part of information management. One way to accomplish this would be to show a privacy tab in the main (newly reworked) profile editing interface.

Facebook privacy profile editing

The Privacy Overview tab would show the level selection screen illustrated in the previous section. In most cases, the level would take care of all privacy management for a user. If he wanted additional control (in other words, if he chose the Advanced privacy level), he would see privacy controls next to each facet of information.

Facebook privacy profile editing

Combining privacy settings with profile editing stresses that the control is important and simplifies management even for power users.

Facebook has an amazing system of rules in place for privacy management, but right now it’s just too complicated for the majority of people. What other ways could Facebook use to simplify privacy management for its users?

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