TORONTO – Facebook admits it’s had its fair share of fumbles and stumbles when it comes to privacy.
So the social media giant, which has 19 million regular users in Canada and 1.23 billion globally, is rolling out a few tweaks to help users better understand how to control who sees their posts.
And it’s taking the unusual step of intervening when it suspects users could be posting publicly without realizing it.
“We understand that in the past some people have felt that privacy on Facebook has changed too frequently or that we haven’t communicated as well as we could about privacy,” says Mike Nowak, a product manager on the company’s privacy team.
For users who regularly share their content widely without any privacy restrictions, Facebook plans to periodically prompt them — with what it hopes is a disarmingly cute cartoon dinosaur — to ensure they realize their posts are viewable by anyone and everyone.
“We just want to make sure that this is a thing they want to be doing and if not, then give them an opportunity to proactively change their audience,” says Nowak, noting Facebook is wary of the dino being compared to Microsoft’s much-maligned Clippy. The animated paper clip was designed to pop-up in Office and offer users help, but was seen as more of an annoyance.
“This is a little bit of a different tactic from what we’ve used in the past …. so interrupting people is something we don’t take lightly. But in this case we felt that it’s important enough for people to be sharing with people they want to be sharing with — for people to be in the right privacy state for them — that we felt it was worth it to have this kind of more-interrupted experience once in a while.”
Another change that iPhone users may have already noticed is a subtly redesigned interface for selecting a post’s audience before a user sends it. It’s currently in test mode on Google Android devices and a similar desktop tweak is set to trickle out soon.
“Sometimes there’s this feeling that when you share things on Facebook they can end up being shared more widely than you expected,” Nowak says.
“We tried to make it clearer who you’re sharing with at the point that you go to share.”
Facebook also plans to add more privacy controls to users’ cover photos on their profiles. While the current cover photo will remain publicly visible to everyone, users will be able to control who can see photos that were previously used as cover images.
“This was something that came up a lot in the feedback we got from people,” says Nowak.