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Facebook has to take privacy more seriously, so it created a new team focused on building privacy products

The group’s first product: “Clear History,” a newly announced feature so people can opt out of Facebook using their browsing history.

A man looking through binoculars David Cannon / Getty

Facebook has been promising everyone that it’s going to take user privacy more seriously.

Part of that is because of Cambridge Analytica and the widespread backlash from users and regulators following the realization that people’s Facebook data was walking out the door without their knowledge or permission. Part of it is because Facebook has to get more serious about privacy thanks to upcoming data regulation in Europe, known as the GDPR.

In either instance, the company is making some organizational changes — part of a broader restructuring announced internally on Tuesday — to make privacy a more central part of its product efforts.

David Baser, a product director who’s been at the company for almost eight years and was most recently working on Facebook’s efforts to comply with Europe’s new GDPR privacy policies, is taking over a new privacy product team that will include around 300 engineers and other product people.

The team’s first product: “Clear History,” a new feature Facebook announced last week at F8 that will allow users to opt out of having Facebook collect and match their off-Facebook browsing history to their profile.

Eventually, Baser says he’d love to build privacy into Facebook by default. How would that work? Imagine that an engineer is writing code for a new feature that uses certain data from a user’s profile. A privacy-by-design program might recognize what data this engineer is using and either automatically add in the necessary privacy code for that set of user data, or at the very least require the engineer to add it before they can ship the new product.

“Such a system does not exist today,” Baser told Recode in an interview. “But that could be an end-state vision for the kinds of things this organization could accomplish. We could change the way people even write code at the company so that they don’t even have to think about it.”

Facebook execs David Baser and Erin Egan
David Baser and Erin Egan
LinkedIn, Facebook

Working alongside Baser will be Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer. Egan and her team will help Baser and his team understand how these feature should work to make sure they comply with Facebook’s policies and with outside laws and regulations.

Egan’s team already reviews all new Facebook products to ensure they meet the company’s privacy requirements, but under this new effort, her team will get involved at an earlier stage of the product development. A company spokesperson says her privacy team will grow from 40 to about 120 people.

“This is going to change the way Facebook builds products,” Egan told Recode. “This is a real opportunity to bring it all together, and at the core, make sure that data privacy is built into our products from the outset.”

Egan has been leading Facebook’s privacy org since she joined the company almost seven years ago, but until very recently she was also Facebook’s head lobbyist in Washington, D.C. That role now belongs to Kevin Martin, the former FCC chairman, though Egan says that Martin’s new role is just for an “interim basis, and then they’re going to figure out who to bring on.”

Egan says that giving up her lobbying responsibilities was “not at all” a demotion.

“I consider this [privacy focus] stepping up and leading on the biggest issue the company faces,” she added.

Baser, who used to report to VP of ads Rob Goldman, will now report up to Jay Parikh, who runs engineering at Facebook.

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