Facebook Settings and UX as a Profession

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/facebook-settings-ux-profession-evangelos-kapros/?published=t but is reproduced here as it was pointed to me that the accessibility was not great.

A user deletes the word facebook from a mobile phone screen using a stylus

Did the usability and UX professionals stand up to their level concerning Facebook Privacy Settings?

We failed. Hard.

As usability and UX professionals our profession has failed, both before and during the Facebook Privacy crisis. Most importantly, we did not only fail our professional reputation and practice, but we failed the users.

I am not writing here to blame specifically UXers at Facebook: I am not aware of their situation, their time and budget restrictions, or the pressure they may have received from other departments on what to prioritise. Maybe some have even quit because of this. Someone though must have seen the studies on their privacy settings usability, firstly because they can be easily found on your favourite search engine by typing “facebook privacy settings usability”, and secondly because they were fast to implement changes when the crisis arose, implying they had given it some thought, even casually. These studies date back from 2011, and it is possible they have made changes before (I wouldn’t know as I am not on Facebook). I think there may or may not be a partial responsibility of some individual Facebook UX folks, but this isn’t where we failed collectively.

We failed at a couple of points, as a profession. We have failed to make usability a requirement and explain its ROI. During the April 2018 Facebook Congressional hearings there were questions about the End User License Agreement (EULA) and how few people read it: it was our job to explain to our bosses why they would prefer a simple and transparent EULA and happy users over legal trouble. We also failed to explain to users that they have a duty to actually read the EULA. I personally received an invitation to join Facebook on 2009, read the EULA, was not happy with their data management policies, and clicked “I do not agree”. Foolish me thought I would get a different option where I would have the opportunity to start a private account and control my data to a finer degree of granularity, but I was just driven out of the website and never joined instead. I was part of the (potentially outdated by now and thus proverbial) 8% who read EULAs. We need to do better than that. The studies are out there for people to implement better EULAs. That’s not a Facebook problem, that’s a tech industry problem.

Moreover, we failed at a different, and maybe more important way. I watched ten hours of Facebook’s Congressional hearings last week, and when various Senators asked about the privacy settings and if they obscured the users’ ability to safeguard their privacy, none of them even imagined to ask: do you have any numbers to back your reply up? I am not talking about them mentioning usability by name, or user research by name. I don’t expect them to know what the relevant ISO may be, or SUS. I am talking about them mentioning how constituents kvetch to them about the privacy settings, then asking Zuckerberg about it, to receive the technically-correct-but-not-that-useful answer that there has been no drop in usage so people shouldn’t be too upset about it. And none of them asked, have you actually asked your users about it? Get your team to show us some numbers behind your claim. They should have asked, but they didn’t even imagine to do so.

Because we are invisible. What we do is not visible enough for a Senator to refer to it even without its proper name. Artificial Intelligence was mentioned by name, Software Engineering was mentioned by name, but it seems that we are not yet a thing. Settings difficulties were treated just as a matter of opinion, where no scientific method can be of assistance—it’s all subjective and fuzzy and personal.

I do not have yet any big counterproposal, I just know that we failed. We can lead by example, like Mozilla, or we can try to explain what we do and why it is important; however we do it, we need to break the tech bubble, and we need to do it fast, or we will keep failing.

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