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Thursday, December 10, 2009
Facebook Asks Users To Personalize Their Privacy


Facebook announced today that it is calling on its more than 350 million users to review and update their privacy settings, drawing quick criticisms from privacy advocates.

In addition, Facebook will be rolling out new tools to let people to personalize control over their information?based on what the content is, why they are sharing it, when, and the audience they seek to reach.

"Facebook is transforming the world?s ability to control its information online by empowering more than 350 million people to personalize the audience for each piece of content they share," said Elliot Schrage, Vice President of Communications, Public Policy and Marketing. "We?ve always designed Facebook to enable people to control what information they share with whom?it?s the reason our service continues to attract such a broad and diverse group of users from around the world. We?re proud of the latest evolution we?re announcing today and we will continue to innovate to serve users? changing needs."

The tools launching today include added control for each piece of content users share, simplified privacy settings, help in choosing settings, and expanded privacy education materials.

Adding Control For Each Item

Facebook?s new Publisher Privacy Control?the main place to add content such as photos and status updates? is rolling out to users today. This feature will enable people to select a privacy setting for every post they make at the time they create it. For example, a person may want to share some posts with everyone, such as her opinion on a new movie. Other times, that same person may want to share more personal updates like her new phone number or a photo of her children with a narrower community, such as her Friends or members of Friend Lists she has created. By making selections in a drop-down menu, users can tailor their posts to specified audiences.

Simplified Privacy Settings

Facebook's current privacy model revolves around "networks"?communities for schools, companies or regions. However, some of the regional networks now have millions of members, which is why Facebook is moving toward a more personalized model of control. Regional networks will be removed and replaced with four basic control settings?Friends, Friends of Friends, Everyone and Customized?that are simpler and apply uniformly to all users worldwide.

In addition, the Privacy Settings page has been completely redesigned.

Starting today, Facebook will also take the step of presenting more than 350 million users with a Transition Tool?a process requiring people to review and update their privacy settings. This tool will start with a message that explains the changes and will then let users update their settings. Users will be presented with two options: preserving their old settings or accepting recommendations from Facebook.

"The recommendations are designed to help people connect and share?consistent with the reasons they joined Facebook?in a responsible way by taking into account how users have shared that information previously and recognizing that users may consider some information more sensitive. Potentially sensitive information, like phone numbers, is assigned a more restrictive recommendation. Facebook will suggest that users retain settings they have previously configured, but if users have not changed their settings in the past, Facebook?s recommendations will be pre-selected. Users can change any of the selections and they must confirm all selections before they take effect," Facebook said.

As users move through the Transition Tool, they?ll be presented with an opportunity to "Learn More." Through this link, they?ll reach Facebook?s new Privacy Center, a guide that helps users understand and control how they share information. The Privacy Center explains Facebook?s principles of user control and related features. It also offers links to other privacy-related material on and off Facebook. Even after a user has completed the Transition Tool, the Privacy Center will always remain available from links throughout the site.

"One of our primary goals is to consistently improve Facebook and expand what our users can do through the site, and that includes providing them with new tools to help control their information," said Chris Cox, Vice President of Product Management. "The features we?re announcing today aren?t the end point, but are simply the latest step in our iterative process. Great suggestions helped us get here, and we look forward to the feedback that will help us develop the next innovation in privacy and user control."

Finally, Facebook said that it continued to protect users' privacy and had never shared personal information with advertisers except under the direction and control of a user.

As part of the controls announced today, Facebook is also limiting the visibility of content created by users under age 18.

Facebook's implementation of the new settings drew quick criticisms from privacy advocates who claimed the changes were pushing Facebook's 350 million-plus users to expose more of their personal information. Their lists of friends and pages they are fans of will now be easily viewable by the public, for instance.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit focused on Internet rights, posted an evaluation of Facebook's privacy changes on Wednesday, praising some, but finding fault with others.

"These new 'privacy' changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data," the EFF statement said.

"Even something as seemingly innocuous as your list of friends can reveal a great deal about you," Kevin Bankston, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in a blog post. While it is still possible to hide your list of friends from the public, the setting is hard to find - which goes against Facebook's aim of simplifying the privacy settings," he noted.


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