Facebook Announces Big Privacy Changes. Now What?

As soon as it was announced that Facebook would be holding an invite-only press conference at company headquarters this morning (on the west coast), the Internet was abuzz with rumors: a new Facebook phone, a redesigned site, an update to Facebook Places. Most everyone was off the mark, said CEO Mark Zuckerberg in opening the event. Rather than unleash a brand new product, Facebook is making three big changes that are all centered around giving users more control, he said. Of course, the changes will also benefit Facebook as it continues to grow and dream up new revenue streams. What are the changes?

  • Download Your Information: "One new tool, 'Download Your Information,' will make it possible for users to download all of the data they have on Facebook, from photos to wall posts, events to messages," wrote Bianca Bosker at the Huffington Post. "Facebook will be rolling out the Download Your Information features starting Wednesday and it will be accessible from the 'Account Settings' tab."
  • New Dashboard: "Facebook is launching a new dashboard for monitoring how apps use your information," wrote Business Insider's Nick Saint. "Facebook already has a permission screen when you add a new app, where you need to explicitly allow apps various forms of access. But the new dashboard will let you see what apps are actually doing with their permissions, listing when each app last accessed what data."
  • Groups: "Until now, Facebook has made it easy to share with all of your friends or with everyone, but there hasn't been a simple way to create and maintain a space for sharing with the small communities of people in your life, like your roommates, classmates, co-workers and family," Zuckerberg explained. "Today we're announcing a completely overhauled, brand new version of Groups. It's a simple way to stay up to date with small groups of your friends and to share things with only them in a private space."

For now, most everybody seems to be ignoring the first two changes and focusing almost exclusively on the Groups feature, which will be overseen by former Hot Potato CEO Justin Schaffer, whose real-time social collaboration company was purchased by Facebook for about $10 million earlier this year. Zuckerberg and the rest of the Facebook top brass are touting the feature as the next big thing, but how are outsiders anticipating the feature will affect both users and the company?

A Potential Privacy Disaster: "Zuckerberg said at a press conference today that he expects Groups to eclipse friends lists as the primary way to manage your social connections," Jared Newman explained at PC World. "I see Groups as both a smart addition to Facebook and a privacy minefield. At its best, Groups will allow people to communicate in ways they previously weren't comfortable. If a family group grows naturally where previously it was too much effort, it may encourage more intimate conversations that would never occur over Facebook's regular news feed. On the other hand, Groups could easily spiral out of control. One rogue member could deraul a gathering by inviting a dozen unwanted guests."

The New Feature Lacks Incentives For Users: "Tagging people in photos is one thing. Tagging people in groups and then expecting accurate and agreed-upon groupings to arise naturally is an infinitely more tricky thing," Oliver Chiang wrote on Forbes' Selectstart blog. "Groups in real life aren't easily defined, and are dynamic, slippery things. Even something seemingly as simple as a family group raises many issues. ... Asking group users to explicitly name these groupings on an online social network in black and white could easily lead to conflict and disagreements."

Everyone Will Use It: Not everyone is a naysayer when it comes to Facebook announcements. "From our initial tests," wrote Jennifer Van Grove at Mashable, "we can assert that Groups is, as Zuckerberg promises, something 'so simple that everyone on the site will want to interact with it.' And, by design, everyone will use it."