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Facebook Introduces New Privacy Controls

Posted By Camille Canon On May 27, 2010 @ 3:52 pm In Featured,News,Social Media | 1 Comment

After weeks of external push back from users and privacy defenders, Facebook has implemented changes to their privacy policy. On Wednesday, Facebook began rolling out a new set of privacy settings that should simplify how users control their profiles online. At a press conference held at Facebook’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s publicly criticized CEO, stated that he and his colleagues had heard the feedback and criticism they had received over the last several weeks and had implemented it to make a more efficient, user-friendly privacy policy.  "The No. 1 thing we heard is the settings have gotten complex and it has become hard for people to use them and control their information," Zuckerberg said. "We listened to the feedback and agreed with them." [1] Facebook claims the new privacy settings will make it easier for users to elect what information they share and with whom. As Zuckerberg stated on Wednesday, "Today we're starting to roll out some changes that will make all of these controls a lot simpler. We've focused on three things: a single control for your content, more powerful controls for your basic information and an easy control to turn off all applications." [2] Let’s take a look of those three points in a bit more detail:
  • Easier defaults settings
    • This speaks to the overall simplification of Facebook’s privacy settings and an improvement of the general navigability of the system. In other words, users are no longer required a degree in semantics in order to understand who, how and where their information will be published.
  • Restoring the option of a private profile
    • This reflects one of the more problematic changes Facebook implemented in April 2010 [3] and received a lot of criticism. Back in April Facebook removed its users’ ability to choose who could see their personal information, such as interests. A user’s current city, hometown, education, work and like and dislikes were all put under the header of “connections” and were to be shared with the public. The idea behind this change, according to Facebook [4], was that it would enable users to more easily find like-minded “friends” on the web.
    • With the new privacy settings, users now have the option to censor the “connections” part of the profile.
  • “App gap”
    • The “app gap” [5] was coined by the American Civil Liberties Union and refers to a change Facebook made in December 2009 that required users to share information with third-party applications. The concern with the app gap is that users didn’t have the choice to share their information.
    • The new policy allows users to opt out of sharing personal information with apps. However, many critics feel that the new policy still violates personal privacy rights, because choosing the protection feature disables all applications, rather than just the ones you distrust.
Initial impressions do suggest that Facebook has made privacy settings simpler and easier to understand. Whereas before users had to navigate between 8 pages of options, 50 settings with 170 separate options, the new privacy policy has 8 pages and only 15 settings. Indeed preliminary screen shots suggest that Facebook's privacy controls will become more transparent as the changes are integrated over the next few weeks. Here’s a screen shot of Facebook’s new privacy setting menu: [6] For those of you who aren’t Facebook addicts, this image suggests a major improvement over the old privacy setting system. The ‘before’ screen shots don’t do justice to how overly complicated the system was.  I highly suggesting checking out the map [7] the New York Times published last week on their tech blog that charts the previously 5,830 word long policy to understand just how tangled the experience was. While it seems promising that Facebook, and specifically Zuckerberg, is taking to heart the concerns of their over 500 million users and government officials, many critics seem skeptical [8] about whether these modifications will generate real change. Moreover, these changes don’t directly speak to one of the major concerns regarding Facebook, namely whether or not the site shares personal information with third party sites, i.e. marketers. This became a major issue when Facebook introduced its Open Graph Protocol [9] back in April, which enables third party sites to directly connect with users’ profiles. Many critics, specifically the ACLU and several U.S. Congressmen, have argued that this is a direct violation of users’ privacy rights and a violation of an assumed privacy relationship. Facebook executives have adamantly argued that the Open Graph Protocol and “Like” button are not designed for monetary gain, but rather to enrich user experience. As Debbie Frost, U.S. Director of Facebook’s Public Affairs stated in a recent press conference, “There are lots of rumors floating around that the more you share [on Facebook], the more money we make. That's just wrong. Advertisers target people according to their [listed] interests. They only get anonymous reports, not personal information," [10] However, whether the new changes prove sufficient in prohibiting the sharing of private information to advertisers, and alleviating critics of their concerns, remains to be seen. What is your take on the state of Facebook’s privacy issues? Are the new changes sufficient enough to quiet down critics or does the social networking site have to modify their policies according to privacy norms?

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URLs in this post:

[1] "The No. 1 thing we heard is the settings have gotten complex and it has become hard for people to use them and control their information," Zuckerberg said. "We listened to the feedback and agreed with them.": http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/05/26/MNL21DL2R6.DTL#ixzz0p7mzwg2B

[2] "Today we're starting to roll out some changes that will make all of these controls a lot simpler. We've focused on three things: a single control for your content, more powerful controls for your basic information and an easy control to turn off all applications.": http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/facebook-flags-new-privacy-settings-20100527-wfz9.html

[3] April 2010: https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/facebook-further-reduces-control-over-personal-information

[4] , according to Facebook: http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=382978412130

[5] “app gap”: http://www.aclunc.org/issues/technology/blog/the_ftc_explores_the_app-gap.shtml

[6] Image: http://www.thesearchagents.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Facebook-new-privacy-sett-005.jpg

[7] map: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/05/12/business/facebook-privacy.html

[8] many critics seem skeptical: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/may/27/facebook-privacy-settings-red-herring

[9] Open Graph Protocol: http://opengraphprotocol.org/

[10] “There are lots of rumors floating around that the more you share [on Facebook], the more money we make. That's just wrong. Advertisers target people according to their [listed] interests. They only get anonymous reports, not personal information,": http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/facebook-bows-to-privacy-pressure-20100527-wgho.html

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