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Privacy Color Coding


In a social networking site a user gets direct visual cues which privacy settings apply on which shared elements.


The pattern can be used in applications where users share and publish personal data and contents, but can control their visibility using privacy settings. This includes but is not limited to social networking sites.


Privacy settings and the actual effect of these settings on shared content and data is often not obvious for the user. Not having the active settings constantly in mind might lead to non-optimal privacy experiences when the perceived privacy settings differ from the actual settings.


The results of privacy settings such as visibility are divided into different levels. A distinct color is assigned to each of these levels. Every time the user is performing an action where privacy settings come into play, the color is used as an indication of the privacy settings currently in effect. The choice of colors should take into account prevalent color meanings, like usage of the color red for warning situations. If privacy settings cannot be grouped into distinct levels, a gradient between different colors could also be used.

Users receive direct visual cues on the consequences of their privacy settings currently in effect. In order to be more clear about their privacy settings.


Users will directly see the outcome of their privacy settings. The danger of unwanted actions is decreased, as users will permanently receive visual cues. On the other hand a reduction of complex settings to a few colors may lead to an oversimplification which would render the whole pattern useless. Visual cues must be integrated into the site design but must still be placed prominently enough to be noticeable. Cultural aspects for the different meanings of colors should be taken into account. The same color may not be recognized as a warning label in different cultures.


Alice uses a social network and shares personal stories only with her friends while she shares mundane content publicly. Hence she always has to change the privacy settings of her posts in order to adjust the visibility of the posts. One day she forgets to change the setting and does not realize that she actually shared a precarious story with her boss.

[Known Uses]

A color coding similar to traffic lights is implemented in many modern web browsers for HTTPS connections. A green background indicates a valid certificate while a red background and a warning label shows that there are problems when validating a certificate. Facebook Privacy Watcher enhances the Facebook website by color-coding shared content and indicating its visibility. Posts with green background are public, yellow indicates visibility for friends only and red content is only visible to the user. Blue background is used for custom audiences such as groups.