2010 in Review: Privacy for Facebook

Posted in: 2010 In Review, Apps- Jan 31, 2011 Comments Off on 2010 in Review: Privacy for Facebook

Today, our owner and Technical Director, James Jennings, will be taking a look back at Privacy for Facebook, a privacy configuration and monitoring tool released by Mobile Distortion back in July. Having just passed 80,000 downloads, Privacy for Facebook has been Mobile Distortion’s biggest success as a publisher, and makes for an interesting case study.

On the surface, Privacy for Facebook doesn’t appear to be too terribly interesting technically; it is basically an enhanced web browser. The interface is a very straightforward wizard, showing the user some instructions and then taking them to a series of web pages. The end result is that the user will have visited each of Facebook’s disparate privacy settings screens, and will have been shown how to set each one for maximum privacy.

Under the hood, however, there are a couple interesting technical tricks that are worth discussing.

One of the primary requirements of the app was that it must be responsive to Facebook’s rapidly changing privacy settings. 2010 saw Facebook launch a completely overhauled privacy system, and a number of new features, such as Places, the new Profile, and Groups, that users of our app would want to be up-to-date with. This meant that going through Apple’s app review process for each of these changes would not be appropriate. Instead, we implemented a system where the app downloads settings from a server each time it launches; these settings contain the definition of the wizard screens. This allows us to update all of our users’ devices, after installation and with no intervention from Apple, whenever we want. In turn, this gives our users the most up-to-date app possible.

We also use push notifications in Privacy for Facebook. We use these notifications to add value to the app by letting the user know (in a silent and non-intrusive way) that there is new content for them to upload. We also use the notifications to send our users FYI-type messages from time to time; Facebook’s new Profile, for example, warranted a note to our users to review their photo settings (since the new Profile features them more prominently), even though this didn’t lead to any content updates in the app. We use Urban Airship as our push notification provider, and they have been excellent. We are able to test notifications and broadcast them in a very rapid fashion, keeping us in contact with our users with very little effort.

When we initially launched Privacy for Facebook, we had intended for it to be a paid app. However, soon after launching it at $0.99, we found that the ratio of paid users to actual users didn’t jive. After 30 seconds of research, we found that a cracked version of our app had appeared on the Internet a mere 2 days after release. We quickly implemented advertising and made the app free.

Initially, we were using iAd, exclusively. This turned out to be a poor choice due to Apple’s limited rollout of iAd. We then implemented AdMob as a fallback; the app would try to load an iAd and if it failed, would load AdMob. This raised our fill rates to nearly 100%, where it remains today. We recently updated the app again using AdWhirl integration, which mediates between iAd, AdMob, Greystripe, Jumptap and InMobi. This will allow us to tweak the ad distribution in real time.

Overall, I’m pleased with the performance of Privacy for Facebook. Our users seem to like it too; we maintain a 4-star or better rating in the US and several international App Stores; Privacy for Facebook has over 9,000 “Like”s on Facebook as well.

We’re also going to take this time to announce that Privacy for Facebook 2.0 is entering the last stages of development. Some new features include:

  • A complete redesign of the UI and art
  • A new “Audit” mode that allows users to cherrypick the setting they wish to configure
  • “Privacy Reminders” – a feature acknowledging that simply configuring privacy settings once isn’t enough – our users want to keep on top of new photos and posts that their friends “tag” them in
  • Better feedback mechanisms for users
  • Better sharing mechanisms

We’ll be updating this blog with more details when we get closer to release!