Facebook privacy u-turn begins - up to a point

28th May 2010

Facebook has finally started rolling out changes to its privacy settings following widespread criticism and growing scrutiny of social media sites' practices by European and US regulators.

In a press conference at the Palo Alto firm's headquarters in California yesterday, founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg indicated that, with one click, users will henceforth be able to block third party sites from tapping into their personal data located on the Facebook site.
A similar one-click option would also enable consumers to stop Facebook applications from accessing their information without explicit permission, while they would also be given simpler options to limit who gets to see their data. This means that users will in future be able to decide whether to share information with friends, family or anyone else on the internet.
The social networking giant did not retreat from providing opt-out settings, however, despite criticism that many consumers simply go with whatever default is provided rather than go to the bother of changing it. Instead the vendor will cut the number of settings required to make all information private from nearly 50 to less than 15. The changes will be rolled out over the next couple of weeks.
Zuckerberg, meanwhile, chalked the controversy up to the company's immaturity and said that its engineers and designers had been holed up over the last three weeks as they worked on revamping the privacy settings.
He told the Washington Post: "We don't pretend that we're perfect. We try to build new things, hear feedback and respond with changes to that feedback all the time."
As a result, if the changes were "helpful", then the plan was "to keep this privacy framework for a long time. That means you won't need to worry about changes. Believe me, we're probably happier about this than you are", Zuckerberg said.
US Senator Charles Schumer, who called for a probe of Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this month, said the firm's move to simplify controls was a "good first step".
But he added: "The effectiveness of the proposal will be judged by how prominently displayed and easily accessed the opt-out option is for the user. We will be monitoring this carefully."
The U-turn comes amid growing scrutiny by regulators over the privacy practices of social networking site providers in general. Yesterday, the European Union told Google, Yahoo and Microsoft that their search engines failed to comply with the region's privacy laws and instructed them to prove that user information was being anonymised.
US law makers also sent a separate letter to Google's chief executive asking how the company harvested email and other personal data via its mapping application, Street View, when customers used WiFi-based domestic networks.

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