facebook-user-options-doorNothing makes me delete an application faster than seeing I can’t do anything unless I connect it to my Facebook account. I don’t want to offer my personal information in exchange for access to an application I haven’t even used yet. I don’t want to let the company behind the app send posts from my account or access my friends list and other personal Facebook data. I downloaded the application because it seemed interesting, not because I wanted to entrust my personal information to yet another company that might or might not abuse whatever it finds.

Facebook seems to understand that. The company today announced that it is updating its login service to help its users protect their privacy and test applications without offering up access to one of the best data gatherers the world has ever seen. The updated service will be rolling out over the next few months, and follows the release of other privacy-minded updates.

First the company released Nearby Friends, a location-based service that allows Facebook users to share their general location with a small number of friends. Now we have a service which will allow its users to control the information they share with other developers. It seems that Facebook, which previously assumed that everyone wanted to share everything with everyone they’ve ever known and every application they’ve ever downloaded, is starting to understand that some users want to protect their data and keep some things to themselves.

Despite these new services, the company hasn’t changed its own data-gathering practices. It still wants to learn all that it can about its many users and to use that information to sell advertisements. And it’s still difficult for its users to control the amount of data they share with the service itself. Facebook hasn’t suddenly become a bastion of privacy after years of relentless degradation.

But the company is beginning to understand that it can make its users happier by allowing them to maintain some control over who can and can’t gather data about them. Sometimes that looks like a service that doesn’t require Facebook users to share their precise location with everyone they know. Sometimes it looks like an update that allows Facebook users to download an application and see if it’s worth keeping before allowing it to access their Facebook account.

That might not mean much for people who don’t care about the things they share with anyone and everyone who asks. But for someone who wants to use an application without signing their lives — or at least their Facebook accounts — away, it just might mean the difference between keeping an app installed and deleting it without ever seeing what it’s truly capable of. If nothing else, knowing that shows Facebook is starting to understand its users a bit better.

[illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]