Facebook To Launch New Privacy Controls; Confirms Chat Is Coming

Facebook announced new privacy controls at a press event at their downtown Palo Alto headquarters today, and also demoed their new chat application – called Facebook Chat – that has been rumored since last week. Our real time notes and pictures from the event are here. See CNET for more.

New Privacy Controls

The new privacy controls, which will launch on Wednesday morning, allow users to do more with Friend Lists. Users can now set specific privacy controls for different friend groups, said Naomi Gleit, a Facebook product manager. Users can create a friend grouping for co-workers, for example, and share different profile information, updates and other information such as photo albums with that group. Users can put friends into multiple groups.

VP Product Matt Cohler said the new controls are needed. Four years ago, he said, Facebook was perfect for students at private college networks. Today, though, Facebook has 67 million active users, and 2/3 of them live outside the U.S. The privacy controls needed by this wider group are different, he said.

Late last year Facebook started allowing users to group friends, but there was little customization that could be done after the grouping. That effectively made it a useless feature. Now, users have tools that they can use to make those distinctions meaningful.

When users now add information to Facebook, they can choose among seven whitelist settings: everyone on Facebook, friends of friends, all friends, some friends, only me, and certain networks. They can also choose to blacklist certain people and friend lists from seeing the content.

There will now be a ubiquitous blue lock icon around the site that will indicate when privacy settings can be used to control who sees a particular piece of information.

Facebook Instant Messaging Confirmed

Facebook is also launching a web chat product called Facebook Chat “in the coming weeks.” We first wrote about the new feature last week. Users will now see a chat bar on the bottom of all Facebook pages, showing which of their friends are online, who they’re chatting with currently, and other controls. A screen shot is above (pardon the quality) – see a video of the demo here.

Chat will currently be one-to-one only, although there is no limit to the number of chat sessions that can be open at any one time. Conversations are archived, and messages to people who are set to “offline” (either not on Facebook or explicitly not using chat) will be sent to their Facebook inbox instead.

For now the chat feature is not Jabber compliant, meaning it cannot be accessed outside of Facebook on clients like Trillian or Adium. They are also not yet adding API or platform functionality to chat, so third party applications cannot access chat and build on top of it. The product will be enhanced over time, though, said product manager Peter Deng. No integration of AIM, Gtalk, or any other protocol yet either.

Users won’t have to install chat as an addition application; it will automatically show up at the bottom of the screen for everyone and there’s no way to completely remove it, although you can minimize it substantially when not in use.

There’s no “away status” – just online, offline, or “idle” (which is triggered after an unspecified amount of time not doing anything on the site).