Facebook to roll out global privacy settings hub — thanks to GDPR

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has said major privacy changes are coming to the platform later this year, as it prepares to comply with the European Union’s incoming data protection regulation.

Speaking at a Facebook event in Brussels yesterday, she said the company will be “rolling out a new privacy center globally that will put the core privacy settings for Facebook in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data” (via Reuters).

Last year the company told us it had assembled “the largest cross functional team” in the history of its family of companies to support General Data Protection Regulation (aka: GDPR) compliance.

From May 25 this year, the updated privacy framework will apply across the 28 Member State bloc — and any multinationals processing European citizens’ personal data will need to ensure they are compliant. Not least because the regulation includes beefed up liabilities for companies that fail to meet its standards. Under GDPR, penalties can scale as large as 4% of a company’s global turnover.

In Facebook’s case, based on its 2016 full year revenue, the new rules mean it could be facing fines that exceed a billion dollars — giving the company a rather more sizable incentive to ensure it meets the EU’s privacy standards and isn’t found to be playing fast and loose with users’ data.

Sandberg said the incoming changes will give the company “a very good foundation to meet all the requirements of the GDPR and to spur us on to continue investing in products and in educational tools to protect privacy”.
“Our apps have long been focused on giving people transparency and control,” she also remarked — a claim that any long-time Facebook user might laugh at rather long and hard.

Long history of hostility to privacy
Facebook has certainly made a lot of changes to privacy and control over the years, though its focus has rarely seemed aimed at “giving people transparency and control”.

Instead, many of its shifts and tweaks have been positioned to give the company more ways to exploit user data while simultaneously nudging people to give up more privacy (and thus hand it more options for exploiting their data).
Here, for example, is an EFF assessment of a 2009 Facebook privacy change — ostensibly, Facebook claimed at the time, to give users “greater control over their information”:

These new “privacy” changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data.

Among the changes Facebook made back then was to “recommend” preselected defaults to users that flipped their settings to share the content they post to Facebook with everyone on the Internet. (This recommendation was also pushed at users who had previously specified they wanted to limit any sharing to only their “Networks and Friends”.)

Clearly that was not a pro-privacy change. As we warned at the time it could (and did) lead to “a massive privacy fiasco” — given it encouraged Facebookers to inadvertently share more than they meant to.

A mere six months later — facing a major backlash and scrutiny from the FTC — Facebook was forced to rethink, and it put out what it claimed was a set of “drastically simplified” privacy controls.

Though it still took the company...

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