Facebook’s New Privacy Settings Actually Make It Easier


Facebook changes? Commence panic! No, wait! Hold your panic.

This week’s changes actually make getting control of what people see about you a little bit easier. Finding information you want to know about other people and places just got easier too.

A new way to monitor your privacy settings is being rolled out this week, shortly behind the announcement of Graph Search, which is still in beta, though you can request an invite. The Graph Search feature I’m most excited about is the ability to search by location. More than once, I’ve thought, I know I know someone who lives in the city I’m about to visit, but I just can’t remember who it is, and I’ve seen posts from others saying things like, “Does anybody live in Chicago? I’m looking for a place to…” and so forth. Graph Search will show you that, as well as facts in common like those who share interests, worked at the same place, or went to the same school. If you haven’t gotten in the beta, you can see a preview of some of the features on the Graph Search information page.

Graph Search has the potential to change how you’re using Facebook and what the site means to you, while the new privacy settings give you some control over how others do the same with your information. It gives Facebook a greater opportunity to be a source of future information instead of a source for what happened yesterday. Graph Search makes it easier to ask your friends who will know best, “Where should I have pizza in Chicago?” or “Do I actually know anyone who’s heard of this obscure band that’s coming to town?” It opens Facebook’s massive stores of content so they’re useful to you and not just Facebook’s ad-sales department.

Ready for a look at the new features? If you’re in the US (users in other countries are having to wait a bit longer for the rollout), just look for the lock icon by your name in the upper right corner:

The first option, “Who can see my stuff?”, drops down three options. The first lets you quickly change the default posting setting . The second takes you to your Activity Log. It shows you everything you’ve been doing (including just how much–hint, too much–you’ve been playing Facebook games).

I’m a reasonably public person, and I’m still sometimes unsettled trying to figure out who can see any given thing posted about me or by me on Facebook. What we’ve got in the Activity Log is what I actually wanted to see: the full feed of what I’ve been doing on Facebook (including times other people have tagged me) that so far just came in odd glimpses and confusing ways. Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like during the time I spent waiting for a delayed flight yesterday:


The third option in the privacy shortcuts dropdown takes you to something that could be exceptionally useful in certain circumstances, from “I wonder what my boss can see on my Facebook page” to “Did I successfully untag the person we’re planning a surprise party for?” Click that link, and you’ll see your own Facebook timeline with a bar at the top that lets you see how it looks to the public or to any specific one of your friends:

Next in the quick shortcuts are options for how you’re contacted through Facebook. Do you want to receive friend requests from anyone anywhere? Or only those who are already friends with your friends? What level of filtering do you want for incoming messages? This area is one shortcoming in the new shortcut settings. The descriptions of the filters are vague, with explanations like “mostly just friends.” Mostly and… ? There’s also not an option for “no filtering,” if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind who can try to talk to you.

Finally, the dropdown offers a two-clicks-away place to block anyone you absolutely want out of your Facebook life.

If you click “See More Settings” at the bottom of the dropdown, you have a few more options. You can in one click change the setting of all of your past posts. That comes with a caveat–anything you’ve tagged as “friends of friends” or “public” will be changed to “friends only.” Whether or not that’s a good idea depends on how you use Facebook and your current preferences, but there’s no one-click way to go back if you change your mind.

All of these changes–specifically Graph Search, but I have no doubt that it was an influence on the decision to make privacy changes more accessible–are the outcome of Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement back at the Disrupt conference in September that Facebook wanted to move into search. In that talk, he said:

I think search engines are really evolving to give you a set of answers, not just ‘type in something and show me some relevant stuff’, but ‘I have this specific question, answer this question for me’.

When you think about it from that perspective, Facebook is pretty uniquely positioned to answer the questions people have. What sushi restaurants have my friends gone to in New York in the last six months and Liked? Or which of my friends or friends of friends work at a company that I’m interested in working at because I want to talk to them about what it’s going to be like to work there? These are questions that you could potentially do at Facebook if we built out this system that you couldn’t do anywhere else.

Now it’s not potential. It’s here. And I, for one, am looking forward to it.

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