Facebook's Dilemma: When Privacy Hits The Fan User anger against Facebook has been on the rise ever since the company made it harder to protect personal information. The social media giant will announce new privacy settings on Wednesday in an attempt to allay mounting concerns from consumers and Congress.
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Facebook's Dilemma: When Privacy Hits The Fan

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Facebook's Dilemma: When Privacy Hits The Fan

Facebook's Dilemma: When Privacy Hits The Fan

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Melissa Block.

Facebook is trying to face down a backlash over its privacy policies. User anger has been building since last year, when the social networking giant made it more complicated to protect personal information. The company dismissed the criticism at first but tomorrow, it will introduce what it calls new and improved privacy controls.

NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

MARTIN KASTE: Online privacy can be kind of abstract - until you find your personal information on somebody else's website.

Mr. WILL MOFFAT (YourOpenBook.org): You can see some crazy things that people are sharing with the whole world.

KASTE: Will Moffat is the guy behind a website�called Youropenbook.org. It's an experiment. It lets you search status updates on Facebook. Those are the little paragraphs people write about what they're up to. The results are mesmerizing. A search for, say, playing hooky is kind of fun, but you get sadder results when you search for divorce or cancer. Moffat says people are sharing more than they realize because Facebook's privacy settings are too confusing.

Mr. MOFFAT: Most people think everybody means all of their friends. They don't realize that it means everybody on the Internet for all time.

KASTE: To test this proposition, I searched youropenbook.org for the phrase: my new cell phone number.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Ms. HEIDI IRBI: Hello?

KASTE: Hi, is this Heidi?

Ms. IRBI: Yes.

KASTE: Hi, Heidi, you don't know me, I'm a reporter for NPR. My name is Martin Kaste. And I was just sort of randomly searching for someone whod just updated their status with their new phone number.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. IRBI: Yeah, that would be me.

KASTE: That would be you, huh?

Heidi Irbi, of South Carolina, was a little surprised that I was looking at her photo, her status update and her number.

How many people did you want to see your phone number?

Ms. IRBI: I thought it would just be the people that are on my listed as my friends, I guess.

KASTE: At the same time, Irbi says she doesn't really mind that her number went out to the rest of the world. Another woman whose number came up in the search, Judy Corley, was even less worried.

Ms. JUDY CORLEY: I'm a gun-toting Texan, so I guess I just don't have much concern about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KASTE: And this is what Facebook's been saying that people like sharing, and that the main worriers about privacy are the professional privacy advocates. The company wouldn't talk to NPR for this story, pointing instead to friendly policy analysts. Berin Szoka is a senior fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, which had just started receiving some of its funding from Facebook. He says Facebook could make privacy the default setting, but at a cost.

Mr. BERIN SZOKA (Senior Fellow, The Progress and Freedom Foundation): If everybody has to go to the trouble of opting in to make everything visible, well, the quality of the site is degraded.

KASTE: Still, Facebook is moderating its everybody-wants-to-share stance, especially now that there are quit Facebook pages on Facebook.

Over the weekend, the company's boss, Mark Zuckerberg, sent an email to a tech blogger in which he admitted the company had made, in his words, a bunch of mistakes. And he published a�Washington Post�op-ed�saying Facebook had quote, heard the feedback.

Tomorrow's unveiling of the new privacy controls is also aimed at Washington. That's because Congress has recently started talking about doing the one thing Facebook really doesn't want: passing a law requiring that users have to opt in before their information is shared.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

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