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7/1/2009
05:23 PM
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Facebook Simplifies Privacy Settings

The privacy controls at Facebook are getting reworked in the hope that users will choose to be more open.

Facebook plans to streamline its privacy settings to give users more control over the information they share.

In a blog post on Wednesday, chief privacy officer Chris Kelly said Facebook is in the process of simplifying and standardizing its privacy settings.

For Facebook users, this means revisiting previous privacy choices. Over the next few weeks, Facebook plans to make a Transition Tool available that will ask users to specify their desired level of information sharing. Previous privacy choices will carry over to the new privacy settings. Whether users will migrate toward more or less openness remains to be seen.

"We think Facebook is most useful when people can find and connect with each other, which is why this tool will enable you to make available those parts of your profile that you feel comfortable sharing in order to facilitate better connection," said Kelly. "You will have the choice of being as open or as limited in the sharing of this information as you want."

Facebook, however, seems to be encouraging its users to be less protective about their information, because private information can't be monetized. In March, it added an "Everyone" option -- an option not previously available -- to encourage broad information sharing.

During a media conference call about the changes, Facebook VP of communications and public policy Elliot Schrage responded to the suggestion that Facebook appeared to be encouraging information sharing by saying that the company was trying to manage the tension between privacy and openness.

Facebook hasn't managed that tension very well in recent years as efforts to monetize the free service have led to privacy oversights. Its Beacon social advertising scheme, for example, created considerable controversy in 2007 for violating user privacy. The uproar eventually prompted an apology from CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a shift to an opt-in system.

But lately, Facebook seems to be stepping through the privacy minefield with more self-assurance.

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