Facebook's Latest Privacy Changes May Quiet Critics

Facebook announced Wednesday that it would let its users reclaim some of the privacy options that they've lost in recent months. Growing political pressure pushed Facebook into its retreat on its privacy practices.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Facebook says it will let users reclaim some of the privacy options they've lost in recent months. The social networking giant announced yesterday it's simplifying its privacy controls. Company founder Mark Zuckerberg says it's in response to feedback from users. But as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, Facebook has also been feeling pressure from Washington.

MARTIN KASTE: It's one thing for Mark Zuckerberg to get trashed on a privacy blog. It's quite another for him to receive a letter on U.S. Senate stationary.

Senator MARK BEGICH (Democrat, Alaska): We clearly got their attention.

KASTE: That's Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, one of the four senators who wrote to Zuckerberg last month telling him they were concerned about Facebook's privacy practices. Begich says Facebook paid attention.

Sen. BEGICH: They moved, at least from their earlier position of we don't have to do anything, we're Facebook, and this is what we do.

KASTE: This summer, Congress will consider an update to Internet privacy laws, and online services like Facebook are worried about tighter regulations. Even if Congress doesn't act, the Federal Trade Commission has leeway to set new privacy rules. But William McGovern, a law professor who specializes in Internet privacy, says Facebook's new policies may buy it some goodwill in Washington.

Professor WILLIAM MCGOVERN (Law): My guess is that it will at least take off some of the strongest heat that they've felt.

KASTE: Senator Begich agrees, saying congressional action on Facebook is probably on hold for now.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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