Facebook overhauls privacy controls

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The Independent Online

Facebook overhauled its privacy controls on Wednesday to fend off mounting criticism that it is betraying the trust that has made it the world's biggest social network.

"It's been a pretty intense few weeks for us, listening to all the feedback coming in from all the changes we've made," Facebook's 26-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg said as he announced simplified privacy controls.

"Our teams internally have been cranking for the last couple of weeks."

Facebook unveiled a redesigned privacy settings page to provide a single control for content and "significantly reduce" the amount of information that is always visible to everyone.

Facebook also said it is giving users more control over how outside applications or websites access information at the service.

"This is a pretty big overhaul to the system we already have," Zuckerberg said while outlining the changes during a press briefing at the social network's headquarters in the California city of Palo Alto.

"Now we are making it so there is less information that has to be public. People want a simple way to control the way information is shared with third parties, so that is what we are doing," he said.

The revamped privacy controls will roll out in the coming days.

Facebook last month sparked criticism from US privacy and consumer groups, US lawmakers and the European Union by adding the ability for partner websites to incorporate data regarding members of the social-networking service.

"Facebook has heard the call of its users and realizes that much greater privacy protections are needed," said US Senator Charles Schumer, who was among the legislators urging scrutiny of privacy at the service.

"This is a significant first step that Facebook deserves credit for. We will be monitoring this carefully," the Democrat from New York said.

Schumer was among critics urging Facebook to make all user information private by default and then let people designate what they want to share case-by-case in an "opt-in" model.

Facebook has rejected the opt-in model, saying the service that boasts more than 400 million members worldwide is based on a premise that people want to connect and share with friends.

"People want to stay connected with family, friends and the people around them; that is a core thing about what we do," Zuckerberg said.

"We really do believe in privacy and giving people control," he said. "There is a balance and more and more people want to share information as long as they have good controls over that."

The new privacy controls will apply to future features, including location-based services that Facebook is working on, according to the founder.

"Despite all rumors to the contrary, privacy is not dead, it is on its way to a comeback in the form of simplified controls and better policies," said Center for Democracy & Technology president Leslie Harris.

"While more work still needs to be done, these changes are the building blocks for giving people what they want and deserve."

The hubbub about privacy controls at Facebook has not resulted in hordes abandoning the service nor has there been any statistically significant change in time people spend at the website, according to Zuckerberg.

"We are making the changes because we think there is a right thing to do," he said. "We listened to the feedback and we agree with it."

Facebook privacy controls have had nothing to do with pumping up advertising revenue, according to the founder.

"The notion that we made changes for advertising is a misperception," Zuckerberg said. "Anyone who knows me knows that is crazy. We are trying to build a great organization, and the way to do that is to serve our users."