Although the rewritten and redesigned text (plus an accompanying “Privacy Basics” tutorial) has made the social network’s policy more readable and navigable, the update has little effect on the actual substance of those policies. A blog post accompanying the release makes clear that, regarding your information and advertising, “nothing is changing with these updates” and that “Your settings on Facebook are not changing.” (The company is inviting comments and feedback on its policy starting this week through Nov. 20 that it will take into consideration.)
“We’re working hard to make sure people feel in control of their information on Facebook,” Facebook’s chief privacy officer Erin Egan, author of the announcement, told Fortune in an e-mail. “Privacy Basics and our updated data policy are all about making sure people can create an experience that’s right for them.”
The redesign follows a change of tack in the company’s strategy to be much more than just a web-based social network. In recent months Facebook (FB) has been on a tear building its portfolio of applications and services. It has acquired companies like Oculus VR, WhatsApp, Onavo, and Moves. It has been experimenting with new features, such as its location-based service called Nearby Friends, which when activated allows Facebook friends to see when you’re close, and the incorporation of a “buy” button.
The differences in how the network presents privacy information are evident. Previously, information regarding the company’s stance on payment information appeared at the very bottom of the policy statement under a vague bucket of miscellanea titled: “VI. Some other things you need to know.” Now it’s first mention appears at the very top—without jargon.
The revised policy also reads much more clearly, using plainspoken English and assuming a direct tone. It also includes a color-coded Frequently Asked Questions framework and has enough whitespace to be easy on eyes.
Here’s an excerpt from the old version:
And one from the new version:
Despite these improvements, Rob Shavell, CEO of Boston-based privacy company Abine, believes the simplified policy is more a distraction than actual progress. Consider the tabs under Privacy Basics tutorial. Facebook’s language tends to frame the privacy question as what you share with others, not what you share with Facebook. Sure, there is “What Others See About You,” “How Others Interact With You,” and “What You See,” but where is the tab that goes over what Facebook sees about you?
“It’s an example of Facebook being an expert at consumer psychology,” he adds.
The company has received criticism for its practices and lack of clarity around privacy before. (Did you know that Facebook collects info about your device’s battery and signal strength, for instance?) In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission won a settlement from Facebook after charging the company with breaking promises and deceiving its users about privacy safeguards.
“In my opinion, what they’re doing is sacrificing long-term potential value for what they could create with Facebook to deliver more and more services and more and more data to advertisers,” Shavell says.