Facebook starts fixing privacy settings

Facebook Inc. announced multiple changes to its privacy settings Wednesday, promising to simplify privacy controls and reduce the amount of information that is publicly available.

The changes will be rolled out to all Facebook users over the next few weeks, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a blog posting.
A one-click privacy tool: Facebook outlined plans to introduce a new “simple control” tool that will let users choose whether to share content with “friends, friends of friends or everyone” with one click. Facebook says the site will continue to maintain its granular privacy settings for customized sharing, which will appear on a single page for easier access.
Retroactive privacy settings: Using the new “simple control” tool, if a user chooses to share with “friends only” or “friends of friends,” the settings will apply to all previously posted content. “Thus, a person can make all the content they’ve ever shared on Facebook more private with just a couple of clicks,” says Facebook.
Settings will carry into the future: If a user decides to share content with “friends only,” future products with privacy settings will be automatically set to “friends only,” says Facebook. Privacy settings will be carried over to future products, so “users don’t have to worry about new settings in the future.”
Less public information: Facebook is also reducing the amount of profile information available to “everyone.” Public information will now be limited to a user’s name, profile picture, gender and networks. Profile pictures and networks are not mandatory, the company points out, and gender can be hidden on profiles.
Privacy controls for Pages: Privacy settings will also be introduced for Facebook Pages, allowing users to control whether the Pages they like are publicly displayed or not.

Easier opt-outs: Facebook says it has added “a simple way for people to completely turn off Platform applications and Web sites, so that your information is not shared with applications, even information available to everyone” and an easier way to turn off the new Instant Personalization Program.
Granular permissions for apps and Web sites: Users will also have more control over how their information is shared with applications and Web sites on the 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,’” states Facebook.
Facebook said it’s primary goal when designing privacy settings has always been granularity, but the company is now beginning to prioritize ease-of-use. Another goal is to reduce the frequency of privacy-related changes in the future, putting an end to the Facebook privacy settings saga.

“I am pleased to say that with these changes the overhaul of Facebook’s privacy model is complete. If you find these changes helpful, then we plan to keep this privacy framework for a long time,” Zuckerberg wrote.

ComputerWorld Canada spoke with Ontario’s privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian shortly after the announcement was made. “I think they are definitely going in the right direction with users squarely in mind,” she said.

“I’m very pleased with the response that Facebook has made to the criticisms that have been mounting over the last few months and I think they’ve listened to their users who have complained about the difficulty and complexity in the privacy controls,” she said.

Facebook has responded with what appears to be user-friendly tools that allow users to gain greater control and “privacy is all about control,” she said. 

Cavoukian didn’t have time to look into the details, but she said the changes appear to be consistent with the Positive-Sum Paradigm that the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario’s office advances. “You can have both the ability to connect with people and the ability to protect your privacy and it’s up to the user, to you using Facebook, to get in there and exercise control,” she said.

Cavoukian advised users to log into their Facebook accounts right away and make the adjustments to their privacy settings. “Do it now, exercise control, because everyone has to act responsibly in terms of protecting our privacy,” she said.

The most important change, according to Cavoukian, is the persistent privacy settings because users won’t have to adjust their controls every time something new is introduced. The simple set of one-click privacy controls is also a good idea, allowing users to make choices that apply across-the-board, she said.  

Cavoukian is also pleased with Facebook’s decision to reverse some of their earlier settings and reduce the amount of publicly available profile information. The ability to easily opt-out of all third party applications and Web sites is also very important, she said.
But “the devil is in the details, or in this case, the devil is in the default,” she added. The office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario will be reviewing the announced changes in greater detail over the next few weeks, she said.  

Cavoukian recently expressed her concerns over Facebook’s privacy settings at the Mesh Conference in Toronto last week. 
Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur. 

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