Facebook caves to pressure and tightens privacy controls

Facebook has caved to pressure from users and privacy advocates and overhauled its privacy settings. The site and its social networking brethren have come under increasing fire from users, privacy advocates and lawmakers, so in an attempt to address such concerns Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, says the site will introduce simpler and more powerful controls for sharing personal information.

Zuckerberg says the changes will give Facebook users the power to control exactly who can see the information and content they share, with a few simple clicks. Instead of the dizzying array of 50 options users were forced to navigate previously, it will now be possible to decide who can view the majority of information from just 15 options. However, information such as full name, profile picture, gender and networks the user has joined will still be viewable by anyone.

New settings will also be added to make it easier to turn off third-party applications or websites via an opt-out system. Although some were calling for an opt-in system for third party applications, the company said such a change would cause chaos among existing user preferences.

"When we started Facebook, we built it around a few simple ideas," said Zuckerberg. "When people have control over what they share, they want to share more. When people share more, the world becomes more open and connected. Over the past few weeks, the number one thing we've heard is that many users want a simpler way to control their information. Today we're starting to roll out changes that will make our controls simpler and easier."

The company says its new privacy controls were devised following wide-ranging consultation with a number of online privacy and consumer advocacy groups and the office of Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who released an open letter in April urging the Federal Trade Commission to set up privacy guidelines for all social networking sites, including Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

Schumer responded to the announcement saying the new privacy controls represented a significant first step in addressing privacy concerns. On the subject of the opt-out system he said, "One cannot know how successful any opt-out system is until users actually experience it. We will be monitoring this carefully."

Zuckerberg first announced Facebook's intention to make the new changes in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post that detailed principles by which Facebook would operate:

  1. People have control over how their information is shared;
  2. Facebook does not share personal information with people or services users don't want;
  3. Facebook does not give advertisers access to people's personal information;
  4. Facebook does not sell any of people's information to anyone;
  5. Facebook will always be a free service for everyone.

As the announcement focuses on the first two of these principles we can hopefully look forward to further announcements regarding the remaining three. The company has started rolling out the updated controls and they will be live for all Facebook users in the coming weeks. As the changes are rolled out the company will be posting a message to all users on the homepage pointing them to information that explains the changes.

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