Compliance Management, Privacy

Facebook simplifies privacy controls

Bowing to the continued outcry from its massive member base, Facebook on Wednesday announced a facelift of its privacy settings.

"We've listened to the feedback that we've got and we agree with it," founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a conference call announcing the changes. "We really do believe in privacy and we believe in giving people control."

The key changes involved simplifying the settings available to users to control the data they share with others, he said.

"If it gets to the point where it is so hard to use the controls because there's so many of them, then you don't have control over your information," Zuckerberg said. "The feedback we got with users on this really resonated with us."

After several weeks of planning and design, the new model -- to be rolled out in the coming days -- streamlines the controls available to the social networking site's more than 400 million users.

The overhaul can be broken down into three parts: a centralized portal where users easily can control who sees the content they share; a control directory that allows users to customize what data, such as friends' lists and interests, is available to people who may be searching for them on Facebook; and enhanced settings that give users the ability to turn off unwanted applications that may be accessing their information.


Privacy and security advocates agreed that the changes signified improvement, though some still questioned certain practices.

"All of the new settings are positive steps toward giving Facebook users more control over the privacy of their data, directly responding to several of (the Electronic Frontier Foundation's) criticisms and reversing some of the worst of Facebook's privacy missteps," wrote Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney at the civil liberties group. "We still have some fundamental concerns about the amount of user information being shared with third-party Facebook applications and websites."

The furor over privacy reached a peak recently when the site announced its "Instant Personalization" and "social plug-in" features, which automatically opt in users to share data with some third-party websites in an effort to make their total web experience a more sociable one.

"What would be the harm to users if content was private by default, but could be opened to the public if the author wanted that?" Joey Tyson, security engineer at Gemini Security Solutions who uses the handle "theharmonyguy," wrote in a blog post. "...Of course, while an opt-in approach may help many users, Facebook wants to share more openly. More public content provides more value for other services that might integrate with Facebook, extending the site's reach and influence."

Zuckerberg did not specifically address the opt-in versus opt-out debate, but the company, in a status update posted a few hours after the announcement, said it "will certainly keep it in mind as we continue to improve Facebook."

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