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Thursday, 27 May 2010 08:44

Facebook backs down


Following months of controversy and threats of a mass user revolt, Facebook has finally announced sweeping changes in the way it handles your privacy.

Facebook today 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 today 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 and a number of online privacy and consumer advocacy groups. These include the Centre 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. According to Facebook, 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:

·         People have control over how their information is shared.

·         Facebook does not share personal information with people or services users don't want.

·         Facebook does not give advertisers access to people's personal information.

·         Facebook does not sell any of people's information to anyone.

·         Facebook will always be a free service for everyone.

Today's announcement focuses three main principles, which are on the next page.



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."

A fact sheet of the announcement is on the next page.



The Changes

* Completely redesigned the privacy settings page to be much more simple.

* Created 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.

* Significantly reduced the amount of information that is always visible to everyone. Friends and Pages (your connections) can now be restricted to anyone you want. To help people recognize you, your name, profile picture, networks, and gender are always open to everyone (though half of these you don't need to add).

* Given you more control over how applications and websites access your information. Now you can completely turn off Facebook Platform applications and websites, which means that your information will not be shared with applications. We also made it very simple to turn off instant personalization. You can ensure that your information is not shared with current or future instant personalization applications by un-checking the box to "Enable instant personalization".

* Get a better understanding of how you like to share on Facebook. The new presets help us understand the overall privacy level you're comfortable with for the things you share. As we roll out new products, we want to apply the right setting for you at the outset'”eliminating the need for you to check your setting each time a new feature is introduced. We're committed to carrying over your presets for new products that facilitate sharing. So, if you choose the "Friends Only" preset for "Sharing on Facebook", new products that have privacy settings will be automatically set to "Friends Only" as well.

* Not changing anything about our advertising programs: we never sell any of your personal information to anyone. There's a rumor that the more openly you share your information the more money we make, but it's just wrong. Advertisers may target ads to people according to certain demographics, but they receive only anonymous data reports. We don't share your personal information with our advertisers.

Data points

* Reduced the number of settings required to make all information private from nearly 50 to less than 15.
* Introduced presets that cover 18 individual settings for sharing with one single control'”two clicks to control what had been more than 100 different options.
* Consolidated 10 settings on 3 separate pages into 7 settings on one page.
* Reduced the number of separate pages in privacy center from 13 to 8.

The move seems to be a definite step in the right direction, but comment will be sought from those who voiced their earlier concerns the loudest to see if they are satisified with the changes.


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