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June 1 , 2010

Facebook redesigns privacy

New settings to put privacy control in the hands of users

Facebook has responded to user comments and concerns about privacy by announcing it will introduce simpler and more powerful controls for sharing personal information. New settings will give the more than 400 million people who use Facebook the power to control exactly who can see the information and content they share, all with just a few simple clicks.  In addition, new settings will be added to make it easier to turn off third-party applications or websites. Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg officially announced the changes in a blog post at http://blog.facebook.com/.

"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's new privacy controls reflect wide-ranging consultation with the office of Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and a number of online privacy and consumer advocacy groups. These include the Center for Democracy and Technology, Consumer Action, Future of Privacy Forum, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Progress and Freedom Foundation, NetChoice, CATO Institute, TRUSTe, Technology Policy Institute, and Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The consultations have proven extremely helpful in both clarifying and communicating Facebook's privacy principles, and have greatly contributed to the design and implementation of the new privacy controls. These updated controls will start rolling out today and will be live for all Facebook users in the coming weeks. 

Zuckerberg first announced Facebook’s intention to make these changes in a Washington Post op-ed that detailed principles by which Facebook operates:

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.

The announcement focuses on the first two of these principles.

Making Control Simple
One control for content : A new simple control makes it easy to share on Facebook with friends, friends of friends or everyone—all with just one click.  The corresponding settings are immediately applied and displayed in an easy-to-understand grid.  At the same time, Facebook has maintained its more granular settings for those who want to customize their level of sharing.  These settings now all appear on a single page for easier access.

Retroactive control : People who choose the more restrictive "Friends Only" or "Friends of Friends" options with the simple control will have the corresponding setting for all the content they posted previously for sharing.  Thus, a person can make all the content they've ever shared on Facebook more private with just a couple of clicks.

Future products :  Facebook commits to carry over people's privacy choices for new products that facilitate sharing.  Thus, if someone chooses “Friends Only” for “Sharing on Facebook,” new products that have privacy settings will be automatically set to "Friends Only.” This means Facebook users don’t have to worry about new settings in the future.

Prioritizing simplicity: Granularity of control has always been a primary objective in Facebook's privacy design.  Starting with the changes announced today, the company will also prioritize ease-of-use in its privacy design.

Fewer privacy changes : Facebook’s goal is to make privacy-related changes with less frequency and to work within the framework announced today as it continues to innovate new features and products.

Less Publicly Available Information

Significantly less public information : Facebook has drastically reduced the amount of information that is available to everyone.  This information is now limited to name, profile picture (should a user choose to have one), gender (though this can be hidden on the profile), and networks (should the user join any). 

Privacy controls for Pages : Connections to Pages, which were previously available to everyone, will have privacy settings that work for both ends of the connection.  People can prevent others from seeing Pages on their profile and from seeing them in the “People who like this” boxes on the Pages themselves.  Applications will also need to ask for explicit permission in order to access any of your Pages that are not visible to everyone.

Easier Opt Outs

Full control over how applications and websites on Facebook Platform access information: In response to requests, Facebook has added a simple way for people to completely turn off Platform applications and websites, so that your information is not shared with applications, even information available to everyone.

Easier opt-out of Instant Personalization Pilot Program :  Facebook has also made it easier for people to turn off the instant personalization program, which prevents those, and any future, applications in the program from accessing their information. 

Granular data permissions for applications and websites :  Facebook also highlighted the new controls users have over information shared with applications and websites on Facebook Platform.  With the new data permissions model, applications must obtain specific approval before gaining access to any personal information that a user has not made available to “Everyone.”

What People Are Saying
"Facebook's users have spoken and made it clear that they want control of their information. Despite all rumors to the contrary, privacy is not dead, it is on its way to a comeback in the form of simplified controls and better policies,” said Leslie Harris, President, Center for Democracy and Technology. “While more work still needs to be done, these changes are the building blocks to giving people what they want and deserve.”

"People care about privacy now more than ever. We are pleased that Facebook has pledged to improve user control and choice and we look forward to working together to help them follow through on this commitment,” said Michelle De Mooy, Senior Associate at Consumer Action. “We believe the company must work with a broad coalition of consumer and privacy advocates, regulators, and legislators in order to raise the bar and lead the industry toward empowering and protecting consumers online.  We also hope that this step forward from Facebook will send a message to industry that strong privacy standards aren't just good policy, they're good business."

“The message that all companies should be taking away from this is that managing digital identity is critically important to Internet users of all ages and backgrounds.  Facebook is taking steps that are essential for user trust by providing users with additional control over the personal data they share. As sites, services and devices grow increasingly complex, the challenge for Facebook and for others going forward is to continue to seek innovations that ensure that privacy tools can be intuitive for users,” said Jules Polonetsky, Director, Future of Privacy Forum.

"Facebook's announcement should remind us all that online services actively compete in the market of public opinion based on their commitment to empowering users to make their own choices about privacy," said Berin Szoka, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Internet Freedom at Progress and Freedom Foundation. "Facebook has affirmed that commitment by responding to user demands to allow users to restrict visibility of their friends and their ‘likes,’ and to opt-out completely from sharing of information with third-party applications and external websites.  Just as important is the improved user interface, which maximizes both granularity of user control and ease of use—two things that are always in tension.  Achieving both complexity and simplicity requires ongoing, iterative process of innovation."

"These new features give consumers more choice and more control over their information—a win for both Facebook and its users," said Daniel Castro, Senior Analyst for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. "Facebook's latest changes show that companies are responding appropriately to their customers' concerns about privacy. In this case, market and customer feedback are more effective tools for meeting consumer needs than heavy-handed privacy regulations that would only impede innovation."

"Providing people with true privacy choices that are both simple and transparent is no easy task.  Facebook's changes to make its privacy settings more accessible, as well as to provide broader opt-out choices, reflect both the company's deep commitment to control and its ability to quickly innovate and incorporate feedback," said Fran Maier, President of TRUSTe. "We will continue to work closely with Facebook to ensure that it lives up to the commitments it has made to its users."

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