Facebook ups privacy for new users, by default


A computer screen displays the logo of the social networking site reflected in a window before the Beijing skyline in 2012. (AFP file photo/ Ed Jones /Getty Images)

Facebook announced Thursday that it is changing a privacy setting for new users, making their "friends" the default audience for all posts, rather than the general public.

The change is small. But it gives new users to the site, who may be unfamiliar with Facebook's sometimes complex privacy settings, a measure of comfort that they won't be making a social network gaffe right out of the gate when they join the social network.

"We recognize that it is much worse for someone to accidentally share with everyone when they actually meant to share just with friends, compared with the reverse," the company said in an official blog post.

Facebook users can already choose which audience can automatically see their new posts by managing their account  privacy settings. And all users can immediately choose the audience for each post as the post is created.

Facebook also announced that it's making changes to the layout of its privacy settings to help users more clearly understand exactly who can see what they post. The new features -- a handfulf of small tweaks -- announced Thursday  include a pop-up message that asks people to confirm if they want to share publicly. Facebook's iPhone app has also been slightly altered to put the audience selection menu in the top-left corner, rather than at the bottom, to make the post's audience -- Friends, Public or otherwise -- more visible.

The company is also rolling out its "Anonymous Login" feature, which gives users a little more control over which Facebook information third-party applications can access when using the social networking site to log into other services across the Web. (Though Facebook, of course will still have all that information.) And it has redesigned its app control panel, which shows users which outside apps have their Facebook information, to give an at-a-glance view of how those apps share their information on the network.

In recent months, Facebook, which has made some notable privacy missteps in the past, has appeared to be moving away from the "share everything" mentality that was promoted in its earlier days by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. While the social network still encourages information sharing and collection, it has taken steps to simplify and clarify its privacy settings. And it has made some new tools optional, such as a feature enabling users to track their friends in real time.

That said, Facebook is still rolling out some additions that have made users uncomfortable. This week, the company's new "Ask" feature, which allows users to send one-on-one messages to their Facebook friends to get more information than what's listed on that person's profile, drew sharp criticism from those who thought it crossed a line. Or, as my Washington Post colleague Caitlin Dewey described it, an "unabashedly nosey new feature that no one asked for and -- we can only hope - no one will use."

Facebook may have hoped that friends would use the feature to seek information such as friends' phone numbers -- a detail that many people do not put on their Facebook profiles -- for spur-of-the-moment plans. That would fit in with the platform's attempts to foster more real-time interactions as it fights off competition from Twitter and smaller, fast-growing networks such as Snapchat.

But in this case, the feature did not sit well with many people, particularly because it also allowed users to ask their friends about their relationship status -- an application that turns the feature into a sort of virtual pick-up line, and not a very good one.

So, the evolution continues. In recent remarks at the social networking site's developers conference, Zuckerberg said that Facebook is maturing as it ages, and is focused more on consumer satisfaction now than it was before -- which may lead to fewer clunkers in the future.

"My goal for our culture over the next ten years is to build a culture of loving the people that we serve that is as strong... as the culture of hacking that we have at Facebook," he said in remarks last month.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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