Facebook Gives the Scoop on New Privacy Controls

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Apologetic wasn’t exactly the tone during Facebook’s announcement of new privacy controls on Wednesday, but users can expect a fresh set of “simpler” options to start rolling out across the site soon.

Though he stopped short of a public apology, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that existing privacy controls were too complex and that the company hasn’t done as much as they could to communicate to users where their information is being shared. In response, Facebook is releasing the ability for users to control their information by adjusting a handful of settings, instead of wading in to the more than 50 different controls that Facebook currently has in place. (See Techland’s liveblog of the Facebook’s announcement.)

Among the controls is the ability to opt out of Facebook’s Platform entirely in a matter of clicks. This will let users control how their interests and information are displayed on third-party sites and in applications. Facebook’s controversial Instant Personalization program — which lets select third-party sites like Yelp and Pandora access aspects of your Facebook information and interests to generate recommendations — remains opt-in, but users can now turn it off in a single click. Finally, users seem to be able to set access to their personal information, including name, networks and friends, with a couple of clicks on a single screen.

But the biggest announcement was that Facebook would respect users’ privacy settings going forward. This was a sticking point for consumer-advocacy groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who recently filed an FTC complaint against Facebook. In December, Facebook went through a (wonderfully Orwellian) “Privacy Revision” that encouraged users to accept Facebook defaults, pushing a broad range of information like status updates to be publicly available. Now, Zuckerberg says you can set privacy settings and forget it — any new products won’t alter them.

How exactly this looks and functions is still a bit difficult to tease out at the moment. While Zuckerberg gave a brief demo in a slideshow, the new controls aren’t live yet. When Facebook issues changes, it takes some time to roll across the nearly 500 million profiles active on the site. And while the controls did seem simpler and more intuitive, it remains to be seen if users will understand them in practice.

But make no mistake — Facebook is still a company that wants you to share more information. In fact, Zuckerberg at one point said that the complicated privacy controls might have actually inhibited users from sharing MORE, not less. “If it gets to a point where its so hard to use the controls because there’s so many of them … [you] might not share as much as you’d would otherwise,” he said.

In a release, Facebook says they consulted with Senator Charles Schumer of New York — one of the social network’s most vocal critics since April — in preparing the revised settings.