Facebook’s New Privacy Controls Are Long Overdue
New “Manage Activity” Privacy Controls feature will let you archive and bulk delete posts for the first time.
Throughout its 16 years of existence, Facebook has struggled to provide the privacy controls users really want and need to safeguard the data they post to the platform. It’s been a challenging project, with plenty of major detours along the way. But today Facebook is announcing a new tool for managing your posts. It may be the most intuitive version of the controls yet, because it’s basically what Gmail has offered for email since the year Facebook launched.
The new feature, known as “Manage Activity” will create the concept of an “archive” on Facebook, allowing you to move any or all of your past posts to a secret new home that only you can see. Manage Activity will also introduce a Facebook “Trash” folder so you can delete posts more easily. The new feature is rolling out in Facebook’s mobile apps first.
“Whether you’re entering the job market after college or moving on from an old relationship, we know things change in people’s lives, and we want to make it easy for you to curate your presence on Facebook,” the company says in a blog post.
Archive and Trash are two concepts most people are familiar with from email. As with Gmail, posts you move to the trash will stay there for 30 days and then be deleted unless you manually eliminate them sooner or reinstate them. And Manage Activity is introducing batch actions for multiple posts at once so you can view and organize in bulk, rather than going post by post. You can filter by date ranges, types of posts (Photos and Videos, Posts From Other Apps, etc), specific people, and other categories, and then select individual posts or batch archive or delete as needed.
If you archive or delete a post that people are tagged in they’ll lose access to the post. Facebook says they won’t be notified of the change, though, so you can archive stealthily. You can’t archive other people’s posts that you are tagged in—this is only for content you’ve shared.
Facebook already offers a “Select Privacy” menu for each of your posts where you can choose who can view the content; your options include Public, Friends, Specific friends, and so on. In some ways, archiving a post will be similar to choosing “Only Me,” in the sense that only you will be able to view the post and no one else. But if you’ve been using “Only Me” as a makeshift archiving feature, Manage Activity isn’t going to help put everything in one place. All archived posts will show up in one place, but Facebook says there currently isn’t a way to view the collection of posts you’ve marked “Only Me.”
After dedicating 2018 to figuring out how to “fix” Facebook, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg published “A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking” in March 2019. In it he discussed a problem that every Facebook user has likely been aware of for more than a decade.
“One challenge in building social tools is the ‘permanence problem’,” Zuckerberg wrote. “As we build up large collections of messages and photos over time, they can become a liability as well as an asset. For example, many people who have been on Facebook for a long time have photos from when they were younger that could be embarrassing. But people also really love keeping a record of their lives.”
Midway through 2018, Zuckerberg promised a feature that would let users clear their browsing history from Facebook. It took more than a year for the tool, “Off-Facebook Activity,” to finally roll out in August 2019. The feature provides an accounting of the third-party websites and apps that share your visit history with Facebook and then gives you the option to clear that out. It also lets you block Facebook from using your browsing history for targeted ads.
All the way back in November 2011, though, Zuckerberg was grappling with similar issues. “Facebook has always been committed to being transparent about the information you have stored with us – and we have led the internet in building tools to give people the ability to see and control what they share,” he wrote. “But we can also always do better. I’m committed to making Facebook the leader in transparency and control around privacy.”
Nine years after those remarks and 16 years after its founding, Facebook is somehow still in the process of going back to basics with its privacy features.