Mark Zuckerberg now says he wants Facebook to do a complete 180 and turn into a privacy-first company. That means he'll have to address three main problems:

  • Problem #1: First, the insidious ways that bad actors -- whether you think that means the Russians, political campaigns, Cambridge Analytica, etc. -- have been able to leverage what the platform knows about its users.
  • Problem #2: Second, the discomforting degree to which casual users now realize advertisers and other for-profit entities are able to use Facebook's insights about you.
  • Problem #3: Finally, the accidental degree to which many of us have unintentionally shared our information beyond our networks, and to the public at large. Think of the parents who suddenly realize those photos of their kids were accidentally set to "public," not "friends only."

The first two problems get most of the attention, but it's the last on the list that rank-and-file users are most likely to notice.

And that's why it was especially troubling when Facebook was forced last year to disable a key feature that enables users to see exactly what information they've shared beyond their own networks.

I'm talking about "View As," was a simple button that used to let Facebook users temporarily see what their profiles looked like through the eyes of other Facebook users. 

In September, Facebook revealed that "View As" had been hacked in a way that let the hackers "steal Facebook access tokens which they could then use to take over people's accounts."

In other words, it was as if Problem #1 took over Problem #3.

At the time, Facebook said it was working hard to restore "View As," but the months dragged on without its return, it became an embarrassment. I called Facebook out for this last December, saying the failure restore "View As" was "hugely embarrassing for Facebook, or at least should be."

As one Facebook user put it on a help forum:

"Bring it back, it's needed in this day and age where every employer, every acquaintance, every family member, every stalker is creeping on your facebook page." 

My fellow Facebook users who can't quite bring yourselves to hate Facebook (I wonder how many others of you got together with your spouses or significant others because of the platform?), we have some good news.

Finally, on Tuesday, Facebook said it's bringing "View As" back -- well, almost.

The new "View As Public" feature will be slightly different from what came before, in that it doesn't let users see their profiles from a specific person's point of view, but instead from anyone in the general public.

They're also adding a new feature: "Edit Public Details," that should make it easier to adjust what you're revealing.

The whole thing is rolling out globally over the next few days, Facebook said.

Look, it's always going to be an incredibly heavy lift for Facebook to rebrand as a paragon of privacy. I might as well announce I'm going to get down to 11 percent body fat and finally break a four-hour marathon.

In other words, not bloody likely. But that doesn't mean it can't make progress, and maybe over time achieve at least part of its goal.

And for its most loyal users, who understand how Facebook works but keep coming  back against their better judgment, fixing "View As" was the first on a long list of things "the 'book" had to handle.

Published on: May 14, 2019
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