More control for Facebook users over privacy

Social-networking website to allow individual pieces of content to be walled off
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The days of fretting over whether your potential new employer might find all those embarrassing pictures of your drunken nights out on Facebook are coming to an end.

The social-networking website says it will introduce a new range of privacy settings which will allow its 350 million users to block access to individual pieces of content.

Users will be able to decide which photos, links or written comments should be kept for the eyes of their closest friends only. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, said the new privacy options will be rolled out over the next few weeks – in time to hide snaps from the office party season.

"Starting with the very first version of Facebook five years ago, we've built tools that help you control what you share with which individuals and groups of people," he said. "Our work to improve privacy continues today."

Recruitment consultants have regularly warned that employers often search the internet for information on interview candidates and can form negative judgements based on items posted on social-networking sites.

Until now, Facebook's privacy model has revolved around "networks" – communities based on a user's school, company or home region – which worked well when the site was mostly used by students. But now users will be asked whether they want to share content just with friends, with friends of friends, or with everyone.

The firm began testing the changes in July. By allowing individual pieces of content to be walled off, Facebook hopes to encourage people to share more of their profile with everyone, not just with friends. This would better enable it to compete with Twitter as a source of real-time information about the topics people are discussing within social networks.

Facebook's new rules are its latest attempt to manage the tension between privacy and self-expression within social networks, which continues to be a source of public and legal concern.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy pressure group, said this week that it is suing the Justice Department to get information about their policies for using social networks in investigations and data collection. In a complaint, the EFF cited news articles on how police searched Facebook photos for evidence of underage drinking.