Privacy advocates slam Facebook change

Privacy advocates slammed revamped Facebook privacy controls on Thursday, saying the change masks a move to get members to expose more information online.

"These new privacy changes aren't so great for privacy," said Nicole Ozer, northern California technology and civil liberties policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) rights group.

"It's great that 350 million people are being asked to think about privacy, but if what Facebook says is true about giving people more control over their information, they have a lot more work to do."

Online rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) labeled aspects of Facebook's privacy change "downright ugly."

The world's leading online social network fired back, saying its critics are wrong and that time will prove that Facebook is taking "a giant step forward."

The controversy came a day after Facebook began requiring users to refine settings with a new software tool that lets them specify who gets to be privy to each piece of content uploaded to the website.

While the Facebook privacy overhaul has laudable features, there is a push to get the online community's members to expose information, according to EFF.

"Facebook's new changes are obviously intended to get people to open up even more of their Facebook data to the public," EFF lawyer Kevin Bankston said in a blog post.

"The Facebook privacy transition tool is clearly designed to push users to share much more of their Facebook info with everyone, a worrisome development that will likely cause a major shift in privacy level for most of Facebook's users, whether intentionally or inadvertently."

Prior to the change, Facebook users could keep everything but their names and networks private.

A newly created "public" category at Facebook now includes names, profile pictures, home cities, pages users have joined as "fans," gender and friend lists.

"There is a whole lot more information that users have no ability to keep private," Ozer noted.

Software that walks people through modifying privacy settings recommends making more personal information public and doesn't allow stricter settings than were previously in place, according to the ACLU.

"If users aren't careful, the transition tool will transition them to less privacy," Ozer said.

The privacy change doesn't address the ability of third-party applications installed in Facebook profiles to mine data from the social network, according to the ACLU.

"Facebook's system now is if I am friends with you, I am friends with all the stupid apps you run too," Ozer said. "Even if your friend takes a quiz, they could be giving away your personal information."

Names, profile pictures and claimed home cities are public, so people can find friends, colleagues, and other acquaintances they want to connect with in the online community, according to Facebook.

Users are not required to provide profile photos or specify the town where they live.

"It is not that big of a change," said Facebook director of global communications Barry Schnitt.

"The vast majority of users have already made this information available to everyone."

More than 20 million Facebook members used the new privacy tool Wednesday night and more than half selected their own settings instead of relying on automated recommendations, according to Schnitt.

"This data shows that privacy advocates are wrong and that users are much smarter in paying attention to privacy than advocates think," he said.

"The process is more transparent and transformative than they give us credit for. When they see how many people around the world have made choices about privacy this will be hailed as a giant step forward."

Facebook said its privacy settings let members avoid being listed in Internet search engines or receiving unsolicited messages.

"People come to Facebook to connect and share, not to hide," Schnitt said. "When users find their friends or are found by friends, they get a much better experience and that is what they want."

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