Facebook Announces Changes to Make User Tweaks to Privacy Settings Easier

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SAN FRANCISCO--Facebook Inc. is creating shortcuts on the site's toolbar that will enable users to quickly navigate privacy controls and will increase transparency about what information users share with a mobile application, the social media site announced Dec. 12.

The enhanced privacy changes were announced one day after Facebook said 668,872 members, or less than 1 percent of its 1 billion users, cast ballots on a proposal to end allowing users to vote on proposed privacy changes. The Menlo Park, Calif.-based social network said the results are advisory unless more than 30 percent of users vote.

Facebook updates include a new request and removal tool for managing multiple photographs in which members are tagged, Product Director Samuel Lessin said in the company's Dec. 12 statement. Facebook also is adding in-context reminders about “how stuff you hide from timeline may still appear in news feed, search, and other places.”

“We continue to strive toward three main goals: bringing controls in context where you share, helping you understand what appears where as you use Facebook, and providing tools to help you act on content you don't like,” Lessin said.

Placing a link on the toolbar allows users to more easily manage who sees their content, who can contact them, and how to block others, Lessin said.

In a post on Facebook's developer blog, software engineer Alex Wyler said users downloading apps will see two screens rather than one controlling app permissions. One screen will deal with access to user information while the other addresses the app's ability to post information.

“For example, a person can grant an app the ability to read their public profile and friends list in order to sign up for the app, but decline to allow it to post to Facebook on their behalf,” Wyler explained.

Facebook also announced that it will retire the setting that controlled if someone could be found when other people typed their name into the site's search bar. The setting was very limited in scope and did not prevent people from finding others in many other ways across the site, spokesman Lessin said.

Questions from Ireland DPA.

Facebook's Nov. 21 announcement that it was eliminating the member voting mechanism prompted questions from Ireland's Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (11 PVLR 1716, 12/3/12). Facebook's European operations are located in Ireland.

Elliot Schrage, Facebook vice president of communications, public policy, and marketing, in a Dec. 11 company statement said users' “substantive feedback on our proposals during the seven-day comment period, along with discussions with our global regulators, resulted in clarifications and revisions to those proposals.”

Schrage, in a Dec. 3 Facebook statement, said after consulting with regulators, including the Irish Data Protection Commissioner's Office, that “sharing of information among our affiliates is and will be done in compliance with all applicable laws, and where additional consent of our users is required, we will obtain it.”

In September, the office released a re-audit report, concluding that Facebook has largely complied with promises to adopt data protection best practices (11 PVLR 1448, 9/24/12).

Privacy Watchdog Sees Step in Wrong Direction.

Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said several of the changes are in response to recommendations from EPIC, the European data protection authorities, the Canadian Privacy Commissioner, and others. Changes to apps should give users more control so one can use an app without necessarily posting their app use on their timeline, Rotenberg told BNA Dec. 12 by email.

“On the other hand, removing the limit on public access to users who chose limited access is clearly a step in the wrong direction. It is another example of how Facebook uses the changes in privacy policy to diminish user control,” Rotenberg added.

The Federal Trade Commission “will need to look more closely to determine whether these recent changes comply with the 2011 order,” he said.

Facebook's settlement with the FTC, announced November 2011 and finalized in July, requires Facebook to give consumers clear and prominent notice and obtain consumers' express consent before their information is shared beyond established privacy settings (10 PVLR 1759, 12/5/11).

FTC declined comment on Facebook's announcement, agency spokesman Peter Kaplan said Dec. 13.

The changes were rolled out Dec. 12 for mobile apps and nongame web apps. Facebook said the other changes will be completed by the end of the year.

By Joyce E. Cutler  

Wyler's Dec. 12 blog post is available at https://developers.facebook.com/blog/post/2012/12/12/providing-people-greater-clarity-and-control/.

Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities is available at https://www.facebook.com/legal/terms.

The site's Data Use Policy is available at https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/.