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Facebook finally overhauls its privacy, sharing, and tagging systems

likeFacebook is no stranger to the ire of privacy advocates, but in the last year the site has attracted more than enough negative attention for its handling of your data. Worse yet, it’s most capable rival, Google, launched a social networking platform that took opting-in to a whole new level. This only seemed to highlight Facebook’s privacy failures.

But the world’s largest social network is finally doing something about it. Today, it seems as if the sweeping changes that users have been begging for are set to hit the site. Facebook announced this morning that everything shared and tagged and posted across the site will also plainly include who can see it. Users will have infinite more control over now only what information they are sharing, but what friends are sharing about them.

Sound like Google+? Facebook says it’s been working on these fixes before the new social site launched, but we’re inclined to believe its instant hype and the positive reactions to Circles has served as inspiration.

In general, suffice it to say that Facebook appears to be taking past complaints and criticisms (and even just mild user aggravations) seriously, and this isn’t some poor attempt to mollify anyone. In the past, the site would have reissued its terms of service in plain speak, or written a blog post about a new way to make sure you were doing everything you could to keep data secure. But this is a very real attempt to address its problems. Here is a quick look at the most significant new protections coming to Facebook.

Tagging revolution

queue

Photo tagging  has been one of the site’s most popular features as well as a huge, gaping thorn in its side. One of the complaints most commonly lodged against Facebook was the fact that you couldn’t approve tags. Users have had the option to changesdisallow tags altogether, or you could always go back and disable a photo or post with your name in it. But it was something of an all-or-nothing policy. Despite user frustration, however, this is one element we never thought Facebook would cave on. Luckily, they have and you can now approve (or reject) posts or photos in which you are mentioned before they hit the site. The rule also applies to other people tagging your pictures. Before, anyone who wanted to could tag…anyone they wanted to in one of your photos. Now, you get to approve that before it goes through. When you log in, there will be a “Pending Posts” notification, and you will have a queue of activity you’ve been tagged in to review.

There is one other tagging change. Now you can tag anyone, regardless of whether or not you’re friends with them. It won’t appear on a person’s profile until they approve it.

Untagging is also getting an upgrade. Now, when you untag something you have the option to remove the tag (which is explained with a note telling you it will remain on Facebook), or you can choose to message the person that posted it and request they take it down. The third option is to block that user altogether.

untag

View profile as

It used to be a maze to get to this feature: Through privacy, then customization, then preview profile, and only then could you see what your profile looked like to a certain user. A big problem privacy advocates have with Facebook is the labrythian way you have to navigate it. But once the upgrade is applied, the “view profile as” tool will sit in the right hand corner of your profile.

view profile as

Posting controls

whoRight now, when you want to limit who sees a status post, there’s a lock icon that you can grab to see a pull down with options. Now, there will be a Google+ like box telling you who all you’re broadcasting the post to. You’ll also be able to edit who can see it, so slip-ups can be fixed.This isn’t a huge change, but we think it’s more a way to mentally remember you should probably use the Lists feature.

But wait – there’s more

Addressing privacy issues and user complaints is important, but so is adding tools that enhance the site, not just protect it. Here’s the quick and dirty on those upgrades:

  • locationLocation tagging: You don’t have to check-in anymore to list your location, and can now tag places. You can include this in photo albums to status updates. This also means you don’t have to be wielding a smartphone to use it. This means mobile-only Places is being phased out. 
  • Public vs. Everyone: As it stands now, when you upload a post it automatically is sent to Everyone. Who’s Everyone? Everyone ever? In the world? On the Internet? On Facebook? This ambiguous wording was purposeful, and left the door open for Facebook to be used for social search engines without having to change any wording and cause a user uproar (which, of course, happened anyway). But now it will read Public, which is just a little more honest. As Facebook puts it “Anyone may see it, but not everyone will see it.” 
  • UI upgrade: The Facebook UI is the same, except for the aforementioned tweaks. But some new, dedicated privacy pages (like this one on tagging) are much easier to read and more interesting to look at than its past attempts to clean up this space. 
  • Reorganization: Profiles are getting a few layout changes as well, which are detailed here. This list tells you exactly where on the page you can find what you’re looking for.
[UPDATE:] A representative reached out to us to clarify one point about how pending posts will work, so here’s that information. “Before these updates, tags of you, like on photos might show up on your Profile before you got a chance to see them. With Pending Posts, now you can approve or decline any photo or post you are tagged in before it is visible to anyone else on your Profile, not on Facebook. This does not remove the tag itself.”