Facebook sends in blue dinosaur to dispel privacy fears

May 23, 2014

Can 'Zuckasaurus' increase trust in Facebook or will he end up like Microsoft's Clippy the paper clip?


Facebook has finally responded to frustration over its privacy policies, by recruiting a small blue dinosaur to offer advice to users.

The social network has faced repeated calls to improve its confusing privacy settings and help prevent users from accidentally sharing their posts too widely.

Yesterday it announced that it will change the default setting for posts by new members from 'public' to 'friends' and will give a privacy check-up to every one of its 1.28 billion users.

This check-up will be conducted by the company's ambassador for privacy: a small blue dinosaur.

Some tech writers are calling him "Zuckasaurus" after Facebook's co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, while the Wall Street Journal has named him "Privosaurus Rex".

The New York Times says he looks more like a "short Barney", the children's TV character. "The Facebook variation also uses a slim-line laptop, which means he (or she) could be a hipster dinosaur, or hipstersaurus," it adds.

Zuckasaurus pops up as people are about to post a message or image, prompting users to ensure they are not sharing it more widely than they intended. He's polite too. "Sorry to interrupt," he says. "You haven't changed who can see your posts lately, so we just wanted to make sure you're sharing this post with the right audience."

Raylene Yung, an engineering manager on Facebook’s privacy team says they looked at a few different characters but thought the dinosaur was "the friendliest" and best choice. "Once we tried him out, we saw some great results and welcomed him to the team," says Yung.

But Facebook is taking a "gamble" in introducing a cartoon character as its mouthpiece for user privacy, "one of its most controversial aspects", says the New York Times. It points to Microsoft's Clippy the paper clip, which was "roundly mocked", and Twitter's whale, which came to be known as the "Fail Whale".

Nevertheless, tech writers have praised Facebook for improving its privacy policies, even though many are cynical about its motives. Facebook hopes people will be less likely to leave the social network over privacy fears or regrets about the things they have shared, say critics.

"The more you post, the more money it can make from advertisers," says CNET. "So if you trust Facebook more, it hopes you'll share more."

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