In the face of growing competition from Google+, Facebook Tuesday unveiled a set of changes aimed at giving users more control over content they share via the social network. In particular, Facebook says it wants to make it easier for people to choose whom they exchange information with as well as make privacy settings more accessible,
Users will be able to more easily decide who sees content on their Facebook profile page -- from a photo album to their hometown -- through a set of options that appear alongside the material. Instead of having to click through a series of privacy setting pages, they can specify right on the page who can view various parts of their profile: friends, everyone on the Web, or a customized group.
Facebook has also changed the term "everyone" in those settings to "public." The company says the wording update makes it more clear that anyone online may see the material -- from friends and family to complete strangers.
The same controls in a drop-down menu will also allow people to decide who sees status updates, photos and other new content posted on Facebook. Each audience option is indicated by an icon and label ("friends," for example) to help streamline the process. Facebook plans to expand the initial three sharing choices to include categories such as co-workers, friend lists, and groups that someone is a member of.
In addition, users will now be able to change a post after the fact. "If you accidentally posted something to the wrong group, or changed your mind, you can adjust it with the inline control at any time," Chris Cox, vice president for product at Facebook, explained in a blog post today.
The new controls also extend to tagged photos. Facebook will allow users to approve each page in which they are tagged in a picture or a post before it shows up on their profile page. That should help to cut down on those compromising photos of drunk people at dorm parties.
Facebook says it is also presenting options for removing tags or profiles on the site more clearly. These include removing it from your profile, getting rid of the tag itself, sending a message to the photo owner, and requesting that the content be taken down.
At the same time, however, the company is expanding who can be tagged to anyone on Facebook, instead of just friends. The rationale behind this move is that before "it felt broken or awkward if you had a photo album of co-workers and had to become Facebook friends to tag them in the photos," according to the company blog post.
Facebook is also trying to make it easier for users to "check in" to places. Instead of only being able to check in to locations using the site's Places service on a smartphone, now people can add an update location from anywhere, regardless of what device they are using. It also does not matter whether it's a status update, photo, or Wall post. As part of this step, Facebook is phasing out the mobile-only Places feature.
The changes, expected to roll out in the next few days, are only the latest effort by Facebook in its attempt to simplify privacy controls that users often find too confusing or complex. The company previously introduced new privacy-related measures after a user backlash to new ad or other initiatives that were seen as overly intrusive.
But Facebook now has another reason to empower users with the advent of Google+, the rival social networking service from Google that has grown to 25 million users in just over a month. A defining feature of Google+ is its "circles" that allow users to group people into different categories such as friends, co-workers or acquaintances. Facebook, by contrast, has traditionally emphasized sharing content as widely as possible.
But in his post, Facebook's Cox assures that the new tools will "make it easier to share with exactly who you want, and that the resulting experience is a lot clearer and a lot more fun."