Facebook unveils new privacy controls

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Dec 12, 2012 8:35pm IST

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through a magnifying glass held by a woman in Bern May 19, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Hodel/Files

In this photo illustration, a Facebook logo on a computer screen is seen through a magnifying glass held by a woman in Bern May 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Thomas Hodel/Files

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc (FB.O) began rolling out a variety of new privacy controls on Wednesday, the company's latest effort to address user concerns about who can see their personal information on the world's largest social network.

New tools introduced on Wednesday will make it easier for Facebook's members to quickly determine who can view the photos, comments and other information about them that appears on different parts of the website, and to request that any objectionable photos they're featured in be removed.

A new privacy "shortcut" in the top-right hand corner of the website provides quick access to key controls such as allowing users to manage who can contact them and to block specific people.

The new controls are the latest changes to Facebook's privacy settings, which have been criticized in the past for being too confusing.

Facebook Director of Product Sam Lessin said the changes were designed to increase users' comfort level on the social network, which has roughly one billion users.

"When users don't understand the concepts and controls and hit surprises, they don't build the confidence they need," said Lessin.

Facebook, Google Inc (GOOG.O) and other online companies have faced increasing scrutiny and enforcement from privacy regulators as consumers entrust ever-increasing amounts of information about their personal lives to Web services.

In April, Facebook settled privacy charges with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that it had deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. Under the settlement, Facebook is required to get user consent for certain changes to its privacy settings and is subject to 20 years of independent audits.

Facebook's Lessin said some users don't understand that the information they post on their Timeline profile page is not the only personal information about them that may be viewable by others. Improvements to Facebook's so-called Activity Log will make it easier for users to see at a glance all the information that involves them across the social network.

Facebook also said it is changing the way that third-party apps, such as games and music players, get permission to access user data. An app must now provide separate requests to create a personalized service based on a user's personal information and to post automated messages to the Facebook newsfeed on behalf of a user - previously users agreed to both conditions by approving a single request.

The revamped controls follow proposed changes that Facebook has made to its privacy policy and terms of service. The changes would allow Facebook to integrate user data with that of its recently acquired photo-sharing app Instagram, and would loosen restrictions on how members of the social network can contact other members using the Facebook email system.

Nearly 600,000 Facebook users voted to reject the proposed changes, but the votes fell far short of the roughly 300 million needed for the vote to be binding, under Facebook's existing rules. The proposed changes also would eliminate any such future votes by Facebook users.

(Reporting By Alexei Oreskovic)

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