After vote, Facebook moves to update privacy settings

Facebook tweaks settings to give users more, easier control

Despite Facebook users losing out on a privacy policy vote earlier this week, the social network moved today to make its privacy tools easier for users to take advantage of.

Facebook updated its privacy settings, adding shortcuts, an activity log and a new Request and Removal tool for photos users are tagged in. The tools, according to one analyst, are aimed at making privacy easier for users to navigate.

"It sounds like despite the vote and user apathy, Facebook is trying to make some changes that will benefit users," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "These all seem like steps in the right direction.... Giving users more visibility into what they're sharing and with whom is very welcome. Plus giving them more control over what is visible is a benefit, as well."

Samuel Lessin, a product manager at Facebook, said in a blog post today that the site wants to help users understand who can see the information, photos and videos they're sharing.

"Up until now, if you wanted to change your privacy and timeline controls on Facebook, you would need to stop what you're doing and navigate through a separate set of pages," wrote Lessin. "Today we're announcing new shortcuts you can easily get to."

For instance, if users now want to get to their key privacy settings, they can simply go to the toolbar to manage "Who can see my stuff?," "Who can contact me?" or "How do I stop someone from bothering me?"

The new privacy changes also include new notices that help people know where their information appears. Lessin pointed out that Facebook is adding pop-up messages to notify users that even though they may have hidden something in their timelines, it may still appear in a news feed or search.

Facebook also has updated its Activity Log, which was first introduced last year. The new log has better navigation, designed to make it easier for users to review the history of their photos, posts, likes and comments.

The changes to Facebook's privacy settings follow on the heels of Facebook users' last vote on potential policy changes. The vote ended on Dec. 10.

While user sentiment was overwhelmingly against the social network making any changes to its standing policy, there were far from enough ballots cast to make it an official result.

Simply put, Facebook rules say that 30% of all active registered users must vote to make a decision binding. That means 300 million users would have had to vote on privacy changes; less than 700,000 users did so.

Olds, though, pointed out that users can always vote with their feet. If they don't like what Facebook is doing with their information, they can move to another social network.

"The voting issue is and was largely irrelevant," he said. "Like any other business, Facebook is going to respond to what they think is important to their customer base. Privacy is important to users, even if they don't participate in a formal online vote."

Olds added that Facebook is responding to this last vote by making its privacy policy more understandable and usable.

"This should allay the fears of users who believed that once the privacy policy voting went away, Facebook would do whatever they wanted without any concern for users," he said. "I don't think the voting has had any relevance to Facebook privacy decisions for a few years now."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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