Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, has announced that it is launching tests aimed at simplifying its privacy settings in a bid to get users sharing more.

The site, which has more than 200 million active users worldwide, says it wants to centralise its privacy settings and end the confusion which has blighted its privacy policy to date.

“We are committed to giving people even greater control over the information they share and the audiences with whom they share it,” said Chris Kelly, Facebook’s chief privacy officer.

“When people can easily control the audience for their information and content, they share more and they’re able to better connect with the people who matter in their lives,” he added.

However, the move is being criticised by media lawyers who say that Facebook is encouraging people to be too open with their personal information.

Stephen Loughrey of Carter-Ruck told The Independent: “While it is welcome that Facebook is attempting to make its privacy settings less complicated, the fact that the recommended settings will make more, rather than less, information viewable to anyone on the web must be a concern.

“The changes Facebook has announced to its privacy settings run a substantial risk of further eroding the privacy of its members.”

A Facebook spokesman defended the plan, saying: “The privacy settings are controlled by the individual so they give their permission for any information to be transmitted and decide who it is transmitted to.”

However, Mr Loughrey believes that this does not go far enough. “Facebook users who choose the recommended settings will have to expressly choose to make each piece of content they post private.

“If members accidentally omit to make a particular piece of information private, it will be available to anyone with an internet connection, including their teachers or employers. Once in the public domain, it is almost impossible to put the cat back in the bag,” he told The Independent.

Users as young as 13 can sign up for a Facebook account. Asked if the site had a particular responsibility to protect these users, a Facebook spokesman said: “We believe that the main responsibility of monitoring internet usage lies with the parents.

“Facebook provides the facility to manage the transmission of individual posts, there is not much more we can do.”

The plan is an attempt to simplify the site's privacy settings by centralising them. There are currently separate privacy controls for the main Facebook site and the individual application platforms which allow users to play games, among other things.

“When we add new features to Facebook, we usually include a corresponding privacy setting,” said Mr Kelly. “The compounding effect of more and more settings has made controlling privacy on Facebook too complicated.”

Organisers hope the new system will implement a simpler, more centralised interface. Mr Kelly said a “transition tool” will ensure that users can transfer their existing privacy settings to the new system.

Kelly said users will then be invited to update their settings on a per-post basis, meaning that they will be able to restrict who can see each post.

Facebook has also begun phasing out regional networks because bosses want to place an emphasis on users choosing their audience, rather than being automatically matched up with people in their geographical area.

“Regional networks made sense for those who wanted to be more open when Facebook was small, but they lost their utility as the site became global,” said Mr Kelly.

Now, users will be able to share with a smaller, more targeted group.

The pilot is being rolled out for only a small number of Facebook users at present and bosses say they will begin to explore how to make the transition to the new settings “in the next few days”.

“In the process, we will be asking you to revisit and reaffirm the way you present yourself on Facebook,” Mr Kelly said.