Economy

Responding To Backlash, Facebook Expected To Release New Privacy Controls

In recent months, many users of Facebook have expressed outrage over the social networking site's liberal privacy policy. It's inscrutable, they say. And the company has taken advantage of their trust, selling information they thought was private, or at least reserved for a self-selected group of virtual friends.

Plenty of people, including colleagues here, have been shocked to see their friend's recommendations — "likes," to the Facebook uninitiated — on third-party sites, like washingtonpost.com.

The default privacy settings on the site is broad. Users who don't bother to change the controls, or don't know how to change them, allow the site's parent company to use their information, images and data.

As NPR's Martin Kaste reported yesterday on All Things Considered, the company behind the popular social networking site is expected to release new privacy controls today, in an attempt to assuage concerns that Facebook has taken advantage of its users trust.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post published an editorial by the company's co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. In it, he said that "the challenge is how a network like ours facilitates sharing and innovation, offers control and choice, and makes this experience easy for everyone."

These are issues we think about all the time. Whenever we make a change, we try to apply the lessons we've learned along the way. The biggest message we have heard recently is that people want easier control over their information. Simply put, many of you thought our controls were too complex. Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls; but that may not have been what many of you wanted. We just missed the mark.

In his piece, Kaste used a website called Openbook, which allows curious Internet users to search the status updates of millions of Facebook users.

When Kaste typed the phrase "my new cell phone number" into the dialog box, Heidi Irbi's information appeared. So, he called her. Irbi was surprised, although not upset, that her contacts were publicly accessible. Although she thought that information would be restricted to her immediate circle of Facebook friends, it didn't seem to faze her — too much, at least — that an NPR reporter found it so easily.

Facebook's most-recent privacy policy, last updated on April 22, isn't easy to digest. It's long and full of legalese, and the company's "guide to privacy on Facebook" isn't much simpler.

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