As Facebook has exploded in popularity over the past 10 years, it has been dogged by issues regarding the privacy of user information. To make matters worse, Facebook also has a knack for sabotaging their own cause, as was the case when a researcher at Facebook released a study on emotional contagion — the transfer and manipulation of others’ emotions via the Facebook News Feed.

And that’s just the beginning.

Earlier this year, Facebook was forced to retire its ‘Sponsored Stories’ feature – an extremely popular advertising option among brands on Facebook – due to an uproar about using user profile pictures and information in Sponsored Stories without explicit approval from the concerned users. In August 2013, it paid $20 million in a settlement of a class action suit filed in California over how its Sponsored Stories program overstepped users’ right to privacy.

The F8 conference that Facebook hosted in April this year shone the spotlight on a slew of privacy changes that Facebook was making to avoid similar situations in the future.

Read on to see what these changes are and how they could affect your social media marketing.

‘Friends’ instead of ‘Public’ default visibility setting for all posts by new users

In the past, if a user had not specified their privacy settings for their posts, they would by default be open to public viewing. Typically, this would happen to new Facebook users who hadn’t discovered the right privacy controls for their profile yet.

This practice has been labeled exploitative and has come under sharp backlash from privacy supporters. Facebook, which till now ignored this altogether, did an about face in May and limited the display of all posts by new users to their ‘friends’ unless specified otherwise.

This means two things. One, the user data that used to be mined by various social media apps will drastically drop, hence reducing the ability to tailor your marketing content to user profiles. Two, discovering new content on Facebook will be harder as keyword searches and hashtags will only pick up content specifically labelled for public consumption.

‘Privacy Check’ for existing users

In a corollary to the default ‘friends’ setting for all posts by new users, Facebook will allow existing users to choose their audiences much more easily.

People who haven’t updated their privacy settings in a while will get automated messages asking them to carry out a ‘Privacy Check’ for all their older posts and renew settings for future posts.

In a nod to the rising use of social media via mobile devices, the Facebook app for iPhone features a simplified audience selector making it equally easy to maintain privacy while surfing Facebook on iPhones.

This is increased control over post visibility is another spoke in the quantity and quality of data social apps and advertisers will have at their fingertips.

Users can now alter their Ad Profiles

In an attempt to soothe the growing distrust that users have started to develop towards Facebook thanks to increasingly intrusive Facebook ads, each user will now have access to their own Facebook Ad Profile.

Users can now see the records of their likes, interests and usage behavior that Facebook maintains about them. They can also add, delete or modify information on these ad profiles directly.

This is a huge blow to advertisers, as it reduces the objectivity of the user profile data that Facebook now offers. The new ad profile data is likely to be less rich, less accurate and less in quantity than before; hence making decisions regarding Facebook advertising even more difficult for brands.

Users can block out your ads

Users can now block specific ads or advertisers that they find irrelevant or irritating, directly from their timeline on Facebook.

(Source: Facebook)

Facebook serves ads to its users not just based on their profile information, but also based on their browsing behavior outside of Facebook. Many users have protested against this practice calling it overtly intrusive, as a result of which Facebook now offers users an option to opt out of retargeted ads as well.

While awareness of this measure is low among average users of Facebook, advertisers can expect to see some drop in the number of quality and quantity of retargeting data available on Facebook for advertising.

Anonymous Social Login

Social logins are popular among users who want a seamless user experience between the various websites they use on an everyday basis. Social login allows users to log in to websites using their social media credentials, doing away with the need to remember dozens of username-password combinations. In the process, it allows the owners of those sites to gain access to the user’s social media information.

Acknowledging the uneasiness that many users feel in sharing their profile information with random apps and ecommerce sites in return for the convenience of seamless login, Facebook will now allow users to log in to partner sites in incognito or ‘anonymous’ mode, thus restricting their access to the user’s profile and post information.

This feature is being rolled out slowly for now and will apply to all apps and sites in the near future.

Great news for users, but definitely bad news for sites that use social login apps and plugins.

More informative App Control Panel

The newly redesigned app control panel offers users a bird’s eye view of what apps have access to their information and what information they have access to.

It also helps them modify, add or delete the personal data that can be accessed by external apps easily.

Another example of the reduced data access that apps and marketers can foresee once users start using this feature more extensively.

Final words

Facebook has always lived in a grey area between privacy controls and privacy intrusion of its user base. As more and more people become aware of the various ways in which their personal information is up for sale by social media platforms like Facebook, they lash out against what they see as privacy transgressions by digital media.

With Facebook taking every step possible to minimize the negative PR that its privacy issues create, the extent and quality of data available to marketers will definitely reduce. Our job as marketers is to ensure that we remain updated about every way in which we can maximize Facebook marketing without getting on the wrong side of our users.

Rohan Ayyar works for E2M, a premium digital marketing firm specializing in content strategy, web analytics and conversion rate optimization for startups. His posts are featured on major online marketing blogs such as Moz, Search Engine Journal and Social Media Today. Rohan hangs out round the clock on Twitter @searchrook – hit him up any time for a quick chat.