According to a Pew survey released yesterday, 91 percent of adult respondents said that consumers had "lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies." Facebook, because of its size and the scope of the information released, is one of the prime places this data is collected. Through its multiple revisions, Facebook's data use policy has frequently been obfuscatory, confusing, or incomplete — an issue that was highlighted earlier this year when researchers revealed they had slightly manipulated the News Feed to test users' emotional responses. Today, it's updating that policy again, with an eye towards making it understandable.
Facebook doesn't seem to be actually changing much about how it collects or uses information, or how you can control what people see. A lot of the new proposal is reorganization and graphic design; the relatively dry policy is now spaced out, color-coded, and rewritten in more colloquial language. It's been cut from 8,000 or more words, spread over multiple pages, to closer to 2,000, arranged in a single interactive page (more technical pages are linked for advertisers and specific topics like cookies.) The whole thing is nicer-looking and less wordy, albeit much more of a sales pitch than the original. Given the minuscule chances of anyone going through most privacy policies, that's still an improvement —it looks like something someone actually wants you to read, even if you probably still won't do it. Users in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, and the UK will also get access to more advanced advertising preferences, a feature that came to the US this summer.
Facebook has tried to give people tools to check their privacy settings before, and it's doing it again with "Privacy Basics," which is essentially a slideshow tutorial that gives you an overall sense of what tools you might want to look for when posting. It might, however, be the point where simplicity slides into uselessness, the equivalent of someone talking... very... slowly... because they think you don't understand a concept. Reading a single menu takes multiple scrolls down the page, and while the screens let you click on little faux buttons to practice setting a post as private or delete it, it seems like an unnecessary flourish when Facebook could just make the design of its actual site clearer.
Facebook's proposal isn't final, and users have a week to comment on the new policies before they're made final. According to The Wall Street Journal, it will incorporate suggestions into a final document, to be released a month later. In more concrete changes, of course, the company tweaked its News Feed settings earlier this week, so you've already got the option to see less of your quasi-friends — not just make sure they see less of you.