What the tools Facebook built for Europe’s new privacy regulations mean for users everywhere

Facebook is rolling out updates to comply with Europe’s GDPR. (Bigstock Photo)

Facebook fatigue may be setting in after weeks of headlines, hours of Congressional testimony, and a deluge of updates that read more like talking points than a guide to how the app many of us use every day is changing.

But Facebook’s latest announcement — tied to sweeping new data privacy regulations in Europe — will impact users everywhere. To cut through the spin, we’ve detailed the most important things to know in this practical guide to Facebook’s new privacy protections.

Facebook is rolling out these changes in the European Union this week, ahead of May 25, when Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulations take effect. Similar changes will debut in other regions around the world “on a slightly later schedule,” Facebook says.

Here are the key changes Facebook announced Tuesday:

— You will be asked to agree to Facebook’s new terms and data policy.

— You will be asked to review the type of data that Facebook uses to target advertisements to you.

— If you’ve you shared information about your political and religious affiliations or relationship status, Facebook will ask if you want to keep doing so.

— Facebook has redesigned its Privacy Shortcuts in the mobile app. Users can more easily manage who sees their information, control ads, and identify third-party apps connected to Facebook in the app’s navigation menu.

— Facebook redesigned its Download Your Information tool so that you can see your stored information online without downloading it.

— Facebook will bring facial recognition back to Europe for the first time since it pulled the feature six years ago. Users everywhere have the option to turn facial recognition off.

— In the EU, Facebook users will see more explicit requests for affirmative consent to use data. They will also see highlighted sections in Facebook’s data policy germane to GDPR. But, Facebook insists, “we want to be clear that there is nothing different about the controls and protections we offer around the world.”

— In European countries that require it, teens will need parental consent to use some aspects of Facebook, like politically-targeted ads and the “interested in” feature. Facebook will ask teenagers everywhere if they want to see ads targeted to them based on the information they share on Facebook.

What it means

Facebook’s changes are clearly designed to comply with GDPR but many have argued they don’t necessarily uphold the spirit of the regulations, which is to give users more control over their data and understanding of how it is used.

As TechCrunch’s Josh Constine put it after demoing the privacy consent flow, “it feels obviously designed to get users to breeze through it by offering no resistance to continue, but friction if you want to make changes.”

Facebook has been steadily rolling out changes to its service in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal which allowed a political consultancy firm to access data from up to 87 million users. The company introduced stricter policies for advertisers promoting hot-button issues and updated rules for third-party apps that rely on Facebook user data. Facebook is also launching an academic initiative to research the impact of social media on democracy.

These changes are clearly an effort to regain the public’s trust but it’s unclear whether that goal trumps Facebook’s need to continue collecting user data to support its robust, targeted advertising business. The scandals over the past year have struck blows to Facebook’s reputation but they haven’t resulted in a decline in users, the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters no a call earlier this month.

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