Facebook Changes Privacy Tools, Allowing Users To Delete Data

Responding to public and political outrage, on Wednesday morning Facebook announced a reorganization of the privacy settings that users and have long criticized as a seeming afterthought, and which will provide for better privacy data control and make it easier for users to find, download and delete data — changes that come as the company remains embroiled in a global scandal over its handling of user data which has sent its stock into a bear market in the past week. 

The changes include a new "Privacy Shortcuts" menu with written explanations of each relevant option; an "Access Your Information" feature that lets users easily delete individual posts and "likes"; and what's billed as a streamlined way for users to download all the data Facebook has on them. The new layout will also result in a redesigned menu on mobile devices will have all sections in one single place under settings tab; users will also be able to review what’s been shared and deleted. The company also proposes updates to terms of service and data policy.

"It's time to make our privacy tools easier to find," Facebook officials say in a blog post Wednesday detailing the changes, which are unlikely to satisfy critics who want major reforms in the way the social media giant handles the data of its more than 2 billion users.

However, the section that will attract the most interest is the following:

Tools to find, download and delete your Facebook data. It’s one thing to have a policy explaining what data we collect and use, but it’s even more useful when people see and manage their own information. Some people want to delete things they’ve shared in the past, while others are just curious about the information Facebook has. So we’re introducing Access Your Information – a secure way for people to access and manage their information, such as posts, reactions, comments, and things you’ve searched for. You can go here to delete anything from your timeline or profile that you no longer want on Facebook.

The tweaks come a week and a half after the revelation that the Donald Trump-aligned political data firm Cambridge Analytica had obtained information on about 50 million U.S. users before the 2016 election. The resulting outrage in the U.S. and Europe has given new life to long-standing complaints that it's too difficult for Facebook users to control or know who can view their posts, messages, photos, "likes" and other content.

The Facebook officials making Wednesday's announcement, chief privacy officer Erin Egan and deputy general counsel Ashlie Beringer, acknowledged the complaints and confusion.

"The last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies, and to help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data," write Egan and Beringer. "We've heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find, and that we must to do more to keep people informed."

On mobile devices, write Egan and Beringer, "instead of having settings spread across nearly 20 different screens, they're now accessible from a single place."

As Politico notes, some of the changes may have been ones Facebook would have made anyway to comply with a sweeping European Union data-privacy rule that takes effect in May. Among other things, it requires companies to request users’ consent for use of their data in an "intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language."

The full Facebook post can be found here.

In response to the Facebook announcement, the stock was trading modestly higher, up just over 1% in the pre-market, and while this may be a key first step for the company to put the political scandal behind it, the loss of valuable, and - to advertisers - critical user-level data, means that Facebook's profit margin will suffer going forward as it becomes just another run-of-the-mill site with far less effective user targeting.