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December 15 , 2009

Facebook asks millions of users around the world to personalize their privacy
Service gives users new tools to control their information

Setting a new standard in user control, Facebook announced last week that it is calling on its more than 350 million users to review and update their privacy settings - a first among major Internet services. In addition, Facebook will be rolling out easy-to-use tools to empower 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 launched last week were part of Facebook's continuing innovation and a response to requests from both users and experts. Different versions of these suggestions were developed and tested extensively since the beginning of this year. The resulting new features 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

Users from all over the world have requested the ability to dynamically control who sees each individual piece of content. Facebook's new Publisher Privacy Control - the main place to add content such as photos and status updates - provides this function and is rolling out to users today. This feature will enable people to easily 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 easily 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 like Australia and Turkey 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, many users have expressed that the current set of privacy choices are confusing or overwhelming. In response, the Privacy Settings page has been completely redesigned with a goal of making the controls easy, intuitive and accessible. Based on user feedback, Facebook has consolidated some settings and grouped them in ways that are more logical and straightforward.

Help in choosing settings

Starting today, Facebook will also take the unprecedented step of presenting more than 350 million users with a Transition Tool - a transparent 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.

Once users have updated their settings, they will be shown a confirmation page that will let them review their selections again. The confirmation page also provides a link to the full Privacy Settings page where users can modify settings further as they see fit. Of course, users will be also able to change their settings whenever they want.

Expanded privacy education

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 comprehensive 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.

In addition to the Privacy Center, Facebook is paying special attention to educating new users. New users will be encouraged to learn more about privacy once they complete the registration process and will have the opportunity to view a New User Guide, which will include a section about privacy and link to the new Privacy Center. In addition, new users will also receive specific privacy education messages within important Facebook pages. Finally, the first time users seek to share content using the new Publisher Privacy Control, they will be shown a message that indicates who will see their post; it will also offer a link to additional information.

"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."

Additional information

  • No change or impact on advertising programs: Facebook has never shared personal information with advertisers except under the direction and control of a user. These new tools do not alter that policy or practice.
  • Common set of publicly available information: Facebook's latest privacy policy, announced in October, indicated that certain basic information - a user's name, profile picture, gender, current city, Friend List and Pages - would be categorized as "publicly available." The overwhelming majority of users already make all of this information available to everyone and this label was chosen to ensure that users understand that it is possible for this information to be viewed by others. However, users can still avoid being found in searches or prevent contact from non-friends.
  • Special protections for minors: As part of the controls announced today, Facebook is limiting the visibility of content created by users under age 18. If a minor seeks to share information with "Everyone," the widest circle of people who will actually be able see that content are his or her "Friends", "Friends of Friends" and members of school or work networks he or she has joined.
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