Facebook users get new privacy shortcuts

Dec 12, 2012 by Glenn Chapman
Facebook on Wednesday unveiled simplified tools for protecting privacy at the world's leading social network and made it easier for users whose pictures are on display to ask friends to remove them.

Facebook on Wednesday unveiled simplified tools for protecting privacy at the world's leading social network and made it easier for users whose pictures are on display to ask friends to remove them.

Facebook privacy "kit" updates that will begin rolling out next week include shortcuts to controls; a simple-to-use log of what a user has been sharing, and tools for managing pictures "tagged" with their names.

"Our goal is making sure people understand the ways they can control their information," Facebook chief privacy officer Erin Egan told AFP while providing an early look at the changes.

"We want people to make the choices that are right for them."

Facebook last year introduced "in-context controls" that call attention to privacy settings at moments when members are taking actions such as posting comments or pictures.

The shortcuts were meant to build on the strategy of putting privacy controls in easy reach at relevant moments during activities at the social network, according to Egan.

Tools from account settings and privacy controls pages were consolidated in one spot, where guides for helping use them are in plain language instead of technical jargon.

Examples included guidance provided for finding out "Who can see my stuff?" or "How can I keep people from bothering me?"

Facebook will also require many applications synched to the social network to separately ask users for personal information from accounts or for permission to post anything back to a user's timeline at the social network.

"We think this will make it simpler for people to decide when they want to use apps," Egan said.

Game apps for Facebook will not be changed to the new permissions setting.

Facebook is "retiring" a feature that lets people look up users' timelines by searching on their names.

The Activity Log update was designed to make it easier for people to review what they have posted at Facebook and pictures that have been tagged with their names at the social network.

Activity Logs will give people the option to select batches of photos in which they are tagged and send messages asking the friends behind the images to take them down from the website.

People can personalize messages to accompany "bulk removal" requests, or pick from a list of pre-written reasons including "They are embarrassing" and "They make me sad."

Facebook will notify people when pictures are taken down as requested.

"The person doesn't have to take a photo down, but this is a conversation starter," Egan said.

Facebook will also let people see how their timelines appear to others, or when posts hidden in timelines may still appear in searches, newsfeeds or elsewhere.

"Users trust has always been core to us," Egan said. "If they don't trust us they will not use our service."

Meanwhile, an option to remove one's name from being found in searches at Facebook was eliminated with the social network saying that the privacy setting was used by a scant percentage of its members.

Facebook on Monday closed the polls on letting democracy rule when it comes to policy changes.

A referendum to strip Facebook users of the power to endorse or reject policy changes through popular vote was opposed by a majority of voters, but not enough people cast ballots to make the results binding.

The referendum was opposed by 87 percent of the 668,125 members who cast ballots, according to a posting on the Facebook governance site.

But Facebook had indicated that if fewer than 30 percent of Facebook's one billion users voted, the California-based firm would be free to go forward with a plan to eliminate the voting structure.

Activists raised a ruckus, saying the new policies, if implemented, could violate some laws or Facebook's agreement with US regulators earlier this year after complaints from privacy groups.

"We are going to continue to implement feedback from our users," Egan said. "The vote was a process that was not serving us in terms of getting the feedback we wanted."

Facebook's news came on the same day that industry tracker eMarketer released US survey data indicating that while people tell pollsters they care about digital privacy their behavior indicates less concern.

"Many people continue to put all sorts of personal information up for grabs," eMarketer said of its findings.

"They also have contradictory impulses about the matter—for instance, saying they don't trust marketers with personal data, but then trading it for a coupon."

Some people do take steps like deleting from computers snippets of tracking software referred to as "cookies," but the numbers are limited due to lack of technical know-how and overall inertia, according to eMarketer.

"When opting out to not let a company collect information also means forgoing the services that company offers, it's a step many consumers are reluctant to take," eMarketer said.

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