More Isn't Necessarily Better When It Comes To Preferences

from the keep-it-simple-stupid dept

Facebook has unveiled a new set of privacy settings that have been getting some positive reviews in some quarters. While I'm always happy to see a company that's not afraid to experiment with new privacy protections, I think Facebook has some more work to do on this one.

One problem has been identified by Chris Soghoian: if you're in an academic network, you can theoretically limit access to your profile based on each viewer's academic status at your institution. So if you're an undergrad, you can set things up so that your friends can see those pictures of you doing body shots, but your professors and TAs can't. The problem is that apparently, peoples' status is self-reported, and can easily be changed. So a nosy grad student could temporarily switch his status to "undergrad" and to get access to an undergraduate's photos. This seems like a problem.

The more fundamental flaw, I think, is that there are now way too many options. The exact options I see on my Facebook account are different from the ones Chris sees, presumably because he's a student and I'm not. But on my version of the preferences, there are a dozen categories of information, each of which have 6 to 8 different options. For example, there are separate privacy settings for "profile," "basic info," and "personal info." Do you have any idea what is in each of those categories? I don't. And then you have to decide whether each category will be available to "Only Me," "Some Friends," "All Friends," and "Friends of Friends." And you have to decide which of your "networks" will be able to see that information. And you can provide a list of people to exclude.

This is a bewildering array of options, and it's likely to retard the usefulness of Facebook's privacy features. When it comes to user preferences, a handful of carefully chosen options is better than allowing users to adjust every conceivable setting. A well-designed user-interface should economize on the user's valuable time and attention by giving him a reasonable number of options that encompass the most likely use cases. If you give users a huge number of options, most of them will give up in frustration, leaving them in a much worse position, privacy-wise, than if you'd given them a smaller menu of easy-to-understand options to choose from.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: complexity, preferences, simplicity
Companies: facebook

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Mar 2008 @ 10:29pm

    Myspace was bad for one reason

    And Facebook is becoming bad for another. Although, Facebook I think is more useful than Myspace.

    Either way, I still don't have a page on either. Well, not a serious one. And not one with my name or professional email on it.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Discord

The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...

Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.