Tourists visiting the ice skating rink and holiday village in Manhattan’s Bryant Park on Thursday will encounter another attraction: a tent filled with Facebook employees offering hot chocolate and guidance on privacy settings.
The installation is the first Facebook “Privacy Pop-Up” in the U.S., and comes at the end of a particularly difficult year for the social network.
Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, told NBC News that the installation came out of a desire to answer user questions in the real world.
“We’ve heard a lot of questions about how people can control their experience,” said Egan, who helped some people at the pop-up tent. “We want to come to people and answer questions in person.”
Inside the pop-up, visitors spoke with staff who walked them through Facebook’s “Privacy Checkup Tool.” The tool shows users what information they are showing publicly and details the applications connected to their Facebook account.
Privacy questions have dogged Facebook throughout the year, starting in March when it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked with President Donald Trump’s campaign, had access to the information of millions of Facebook users harvested through a connected quiz app.
Since then, Facebook has endured a series of successive scandals, including the discovery of a security flaw that exposed location check-in and search data for 14 million users. Most recently, Facebook and its leadership has been scrutinized for hiring a conservative public relations firm that included an “in-house fake news shop” in an effort to counter the negative attention the company had received.
Egan said she often gets questions from friends and family about Facebook, with some asking “Is Facebook Safe?”
“I respond unequivocally ‘yes,’” Egan said. “People need to feel safe to share and connect on Facebook.”
To enhance safety and security, Egan said Facebook tripled the number of employees who work on the safety and security team to over 30,000 and removed more than 1.5 billion fake accounts.
“We hope to continue meeting people where they are,” Egan said.
One visitor to the tent, Michelle, who asked that her last name not be used for privacy reasons, said she used Facebook but had issues with it.
“I don’t trust Facebook, but I still use it.” she said. “I made sure all of my privacy settings are as secure as possible.”