Facebook serious about privacy

2009-12-09 22:38

San Francisco - Facebook on Wednesday began calling on users to get a better grip on their online privacy by dictating who sees what in profiles at the world's leading social networking service.

All of Facebook's more than 350 million members will be required to refine settings with a new software tool that lets them specify who gets to be privy to each photo, video, update or other piece of content uploaded to the website.

"We care so much about this that we will require people to go through it to get access to the service," Facebook vice president of global communications, marketing and public policy Elliot Schrage told AFP.

"The idea is to evolve, to give users better control of with whom they share when they share."

The change promises to help Facebook users prevent embarrassing images or overly revealing updates from being seen by business acquaintances, bosses or others not part of inner circles of online friends.

"You will have the opportunity to customise even individual pieces of content when you upload a picture or a video," Schrage said.

"If you want to share a photo with just your family, you could do that as well. It is much more straightforward."

The new privacy tools let Facebook members pre-determine accessibility to profile content in categories designated "Everyone", "Only Friends", or "Friends of Friends". There is also a "customise" category.

Discretion and privacy

Facebook members can select a privacy setting for each post by using lock icons next to "share" buttons on profile pages.

"It is going to be far more intuitive for users," Future of Privacy Forum director Jules Polonetsky said of the Facebook privacy control change.

"When we post something is when we think of whom we want it to go to, and this is the first time we will be able to do that."

Regional networks, geographical community groupings that Facebook recently eliminated, led members to unwittingly share profile content with as many as millions of users, according to Polonetsky.

"Facebook has balanced more sharing with less of a chance people won't realise who they are sharing with," Polonetsky said.

This is the first time Facebook users will be able to make "discreet decisions on the fly" about individual posts and updates, he added.

The new tool stems from a revamped privacy policy unveiled earlier this year and is not connected with any advertising or revenue-making scheme, according to Facebook.

"We hope users will recognise this is an unprecedented approach to engaging them around the issue of privacy and control," Schrage said.

"No service or site has ever asked their users to go through this process; it is privacy by design."

Facebook is braced for complaints given that changes at the social networking service routinely trigger protests in the community.

"We will have people who will love what we've done and embrace it, and we will have people distressed and concerned by it," Schrage predicted, adding that Facebook appreciates how passionate its members are about the service.

"We focus on patterns of use afterward, and what we found is when we make changes it is followed by substantially greater involvement on the site and growth."