Sunday, July 05, 2009

Facebook to streamline user privacy controls, raise awareness about dissemination of info

Facebook is responding to privacy backlash concerns by introducing a new unified privacy interface and making users more aware of where their posted materials may be broadcast on the service. This stems, in part, from their plans to make users postings available system-wide like Twitter. (See: Canadian Privacy Law Blog: One privacy step forward, one back for Facebook.)

This is a Good Thing, in my view. The more control you give people to make informed decisions about their privacy, the better. Even if they're completely ignored, it's harder for people to later say they didn't know what was going on. Privacy is about giving people the ability to make informed choices about how their information is collected, used and disclosed.

A copy of a WebEx given by Facebook is available here: Facebook’s Complete Privacy Presentation.

And some additional details are on Facebook's blog: Facebook Improving Sharing Through Control, Simplicity and Connection.

Some coverage from

Responding to privacy concerns, Facebook streamlines user controls -

By Scott Duke Harris and Elise Ackerman

Mercury News

Posted: 07/01/2009 11:57:07 AM PDT

Amid mounting concerns about Internet privacy, Facebook on Wednesday announced plans to streamline its user controls by introducing a "Unified Privacy Page."

The Palo Alto social-networking leader said it was taking action to address common complaints among its more than 200 million users worldwide about privacy. The company also announced that it is phasing out familiar regional networks such as "Silicon Valley" to minimize confusion.

Facebook credits its growth to fostering a culture that assures privacy and encourages authenticity. But in the past, Facebook has also engendered controversy by gathering data without user consent — a practice later reversed amid a user backlash.

On Wednesday, Facebook also sought to allay puzzlement and concerns over its fledgling "Everyone" posting feature, which it introduced in March. The feature, Facebook says, eventually will enable users to broadcast messages, photos and video far beyond their personal social networks and to the Internet at large. Facebook is vague about products, but acknowledged they could take the form of bulletin boards or forums on a vast array of topics, as well as a new searchable database.

The "Everyone" initiative has helped revive questions about Facebook's dedication to privacy safeguards. Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, portrayed the latest changes as a public relations gimmick.

"I think Facebook realizes they have a political problem,'' he said. "They are in denial. They are in digital denial."

Full control

But Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly, in a conference call with reporters and analysts, insisted that Facebook's fundamental philosophy remains to give users full control over their privacy settings, and said the changes will simplify those controls.

"We've always believed privacy controls enhance this mission," Kelly said.

Facebook users can expect the changes to be tested and refined over the next three weeks. The Unified Privacy Page, the company said, should alleviate user frustration by simplifying and consolidating some 45 privacy settings scattered across six pages in the current format.

Facebook, because of its size and influence, is closely watched by Internet privacy advocates in the United States and abroad. It is the only company listed among 16 "hot policy issues" on the home page of the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, along with such general topics as "domestic surveillance," "cloud computing," "search engine privacy" and "social-networking privacy." Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, advised Facebook users to carefully watch the changes.

"Changing user settings is a risky strategy, particularly in the privacy world. And this is always what gets Facebook into trouble," Rotenberg said. "It will be very important that users are not opted-in to data sharing under the new settings where they had previously opted out with the original settings.

"Facebook also needs to do more to address data collection by third-party app developers," he added. "Too much personal information, made public by Facebook, ends up in secret profiles."

The Center for Digital Democracy's Chester flatly questioned Kelly's statement that Facebook allows users to control data shared with advertisers. "That's not true. The fact of the matter is they are really not transparent when it comes to how the data is used for advertising," Chester said. "We think it's a black box."

Pop-up questions

Facebook said care will be taken to guide users through the changing privacy process. There will be, for example, pop-up questions to make users doubly aware of where their posts will be sent.

Facebook has already started phasing out the regional networks users often join. About half of Facebook users opted in to such networks, the purpose of which often has caused confusion as Facebook has grown and attracted users with identical and similar names.

Local businesses and advertisers that relied on such networks for marketing will instead be able to use data such as city of residence to reach Facebook users.

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