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Facebook Forces Users to Get With Its Privacy Program

Facebook Forces Users to Get With Its Privacy Program

Facebook apparently wants to protect users from embarrassing themselves by requiring all members of the massive social network to review and update their privacy settings. Anyone who refuses will be denied access. The move might be motivated by an interest in becoming more business-friendly, as well as competing more effectively with the professional social network LinkedIn.

By Katherine Noyes
12/09/09 11:52 AM PT

Facebook users are now being required to review and update their privacy settings in light of changes the company has made to its privacy controls.

The latest round of changes -- announced last week by CEO Mark Zuckerberg -- include the elimination of Facebook's regional networks, the implementation of granular settings for individual pieces of content, and a simplified privacy settings page.

Those changes were officially launched on Wednesday, and now Facebook says it is the first major Internet service to require that its 350 million users review and update their privacy settings as a result.

Enabling Control

"Facebook is transforming the world's ability to control its information online by empowering more than 350 million people to personalize the audience for each piece of content they share," said Elliot Schrage, vice president of communications, public policy and marketing for the social network.

"We've always designed Facebook to enable people to control what information they share with whom -- it's the reason our service continues to attract such a broad and diverse group of users from around the world," Schrage added. "We're proud of the latest evolution we're announcing today and we will continue to innovate to serve users' changing needs."

In a related move, Facebook earlier this week also announced that it has created an external advisory board on the topic of online safety.

A Limited Time to 'Skip'

Sometime on Wednesday, Facebook users logging in will be presented with what the company calls a "transition tool," company spokesperson Barry Schnitt told TechNewsWorld.

That tool will invite them to go through a three-step process to review and update their settings, but they'll also have the option to "skip" the process for now.

If they choose to skip it, they'll be presented with the same message again each time they log in, very likely through the end of Wednesday, Schnitt said. Then, starting Thursday or thereabouts, the "skip" option will go away, and they will no longer be able to use the site until they go through the process.

Three-Step Process

The first part of the process will be an explanation of the changes to the site's privacy controls, along with an invitation to view its new Privacy Center for more.

Next, users will be asked to make choices about who can see the various parts of their profile and the posts they create. For users who have previously chosen to restrict access to parts of their profile, Facebook will recommend that they keep those more restrictive settings. For others, the site will make recommendations of its own "based on how lots of people are sharing information today," it explained.

For example, Facebook recommends that users make available to "everyone" a limited set of information that helps people find and connect with them, such as "About Me" and where they work or go to school.

For more sensitive information, on the other hand -- like photos, videos and contact information -- it recommends a more restrictive setting.

A Different 'Everyone' for Minors

Special restrictions will be placed on those under 18, however. For example, for minors, selecting "everyone" now means sharing at most with friends of friends and members of any school or work networks they've joined. Similarly, minors are automatically opted out of sharing information with public search engines for indexing.

In any case, once users have updated their settings, they will be shown a confirmation page that will let them review their selections again. That page also provides a link to the full Privacy Settings page, where users can modify settings further at any time.

New Facebook users, meanwhile, will be given additional privacy education messages and materials from now on.

'A Source of Significant Problems'

In giving users control over who sees each individual piece of content they post, Facebook is responding to the fact that it has sometimes been "a source of significant problems and embarrassment for some of its members," Paul Gillin, author of Secrets of Social Media Marketing told TechNewsWorld.

The most obvious examples, he noted, have been cases in which people lost out on job opportunities because of embarrassing content on their Facebook page. Indeed, "human resources departments now routinely do background checks on Facebook," he explained.

As a result, there has been a "chorus of complaints" from users seeking ways to keep some content out of their public profiles, he asserted.

Becoming Business-Friendly

The changes also reflect Facebook's efforts to become more business-friendly and similar to LinkedIn, Gillin said.

The site also recently made fan pages easier for businesses to administer, with an eye toward generating revenue from businesses that want to establish a presence there, he pointed out.

"A lot about Facebook's privacy model has scared businesses, because everything has been so public," he noted. "Now they're doing what businesses want them to do, which is to enable privacy settings at a much more granular level."

Strength in Numbers

Will change-weary users balk at being required to go through the process of updating their settings?

"Users are already overwhelmed," Gillin said, "but I doubt they will flock anywhere else."

The success of any social network depends on "how many people are already there," he explained, and -- with 350 million or so users -- "Facebook is far and away the largest social network. No one else has anywhere near those kinds of numbers."


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