Facebook Inc., currently facing a firestorm over how it handles personal information, says it will make it simpler for users to examine and change some of the data Facebook tracks about them.
The tweaks announced Wednesday, which will roll out in the coming weeks, include a new, central hub in the Facebook app settings that contains existing tools for users to review and, if desired, delete traces of their Facebook activity such as past posts and search terms. Some other data, such as which ads users clicked on, still won’t be erasable. Facebook says any information users delete is wiped from its servers.
Facebook will also redesign its settings menu for mobile devices, now spread out across almost 20 different screens, and consolidate its privacy and security options in a single place.
The moves are part of broader changes Facebook is planning to bolster privacy, said Rob Sherman, Facebook’s deputy privacy officer. They come amid intensifying scrutiny from users, regulators and lawmakers over Facebook’s admission on March 16 that user data was improperly obtained by Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics firm that worked for the 2016 Trump campaign.
The backlash has shaken Facebook and hammered its stock, cleaving more than $95 billion off its market value in just over a week. Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized last week for a “major breach of trust” in the Cambridge Analytica episode and is expected to testify before U.S. lawmakers on data-use practices next month.
“It’s been a very intense week,” Sherman said in an interview. “One thing that’s been really clear is that we’ve lost people’s trust and need to do a lot of work right away to work on regaining it.”
The Cambridge Analytica revelation showed limits to Facebook’s enforcement of rules governing outsiders’ handling of user data and its ability to see how third parties may have used Facebook data. Facebook says the firm obtained the data, involving potentially tens of millions of users, in violation of its rules from an app developer that was allowed to have the information but not to sell it. It is investigating whether Cambridge Analytica kept the data after Facebook demanded it be deleted in 2015. Cambridge Analytica has said it followed Facebook’s policies.
The episode has prompted renewed attention to how much information about its users Facebook tracks, and accelerated government scrutiny of Facebook, which is already under a microscope for its role in allowing Russian-backed groups to use its tools to sway U.S. political discourse before and after the 2016 presidential race.
In a March 21 post, Zuckerberg said Facebook would investigate and audit app creators who may have abused personal data about Facebook users as well as restrict the amount of information available to developers.
However, Facebook is limited in its ability to track down instances of data misuse because the information is impossible to track once it is downloaded off Facebook servers, Zuckerberg said.
Sherman also said Facebook faces challenges in determining how data provided to app creators in the past may have been misused over time. But he said the effort is vital. “People will only feel comfortable using Facebook if they have confidence that their information will be protected,” he said.
Facebook’s current data crisis involving Cambridge Analytica has angered users and prompted government investigations.