After the Cambridge Analytica data scandal broke in March, Facebook repeatedly promised to make reforms, saying in one blog post that the company would “put people more in control of their privacy.” But three months later, research by Consumer Reports privacy experts finds that some of Facebook’s privacy settings remain confusing and hard to use.
The researchers found that the design and language used in Facebook's privacy controls nudge people toward sharing the maximum amount of data with the company.
In addition, they say, one privacy setting works differently in the iOS and Android versions of Facebook's app. And the iOS version could mislead consumers into believing that certain privacy protections are on when they are off, according to Katie McInnis, policy counsel for Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports, who led the research. That could prevent consumers from making informed choices.
"What we found concerned us," says McInnis. "The way Facebook handles consumer privacy still seems complicated and confusing, and we think consumers can come away believing they have more control than they really do."
Consumers Union is sending a letter today to the Federal Trade Commission, urging the agency to investigate the matter. The letter states “our research found that Facebook uses [various] interfaces to steer users to the least private options when creating a Facebook account.”
Other privacy experts agree with that evaluation. “The deck is stacked,” says Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, an advocacy group, when informed of CR’s findings. “It takes an extraordinarily diligent consumer to make informed privacy choices on Facebook.”
According to the Consumer Reports analysis, users can’t make changes to default settings before completing the sign-up process. Facebook also directs new users through a confusing dashboard of policies to learn how to change settings, and in some instances users need to perform a dozen or more clicks and swipes to find and adjust the appropriate settings.
“Facebook has a lot of privacy controls, and they’re not organized in a way that’s easy to find,” says Lorrie Faith Cranor, professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and an expert on digital design as it relates to privacy. Facebook says it has worked to make its settings more accessible with its new Privacy Shortcuts feature.