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Facebook privacy changes draw mixed reviews

By Robert McMillan
December 9, 2009 08:10 PM ET

IDG News Service - Facebook's revamped privacy settings will push more user data onto the Internet and, in some cases, make privacy protection harder for Facebook users, digital civil liberties experts said.

While acknowledging that many of the changes unveiled Wednesday will be good for privacy, Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Attorney Kevin Bankston said the social networking site is also removing some important privacy controls that it should have kept.

"I think you're better off in some ways and worse off in some ways," he said. "It's really a mixed bag."

Ari Schwartz, chief operating officer of the Center for Democracy and Technology, offered a similarly mixed review. According to him, giving people more control over who sees their individual posts is a good thing, but the new default privacy settings will push a lot more information into the public realm. That "actually has a negative effect on privacy," he said.

Bankston was more forthright in an EFF blog post.

"Our conclusion? These new 'privacy' changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before," Bankston wrote. "Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data."

Facebook began rolling out its new privacy settings Wednesday, responding to critics who had said the existing system was needlessly complex and frequently ineffective. By simplifying the way privacy is set up, Facebook says it will improve its users' privacy.

"Numerous settings and complicated options can make it harder for people to make informed decisions about their privacy or about the Facebook experience they want," said Elliot Schrage, Facebook's vice president of communications, public policy and marketing, in a press conference.

To date, between 15 and 20 percent of Facebook's 350 million users take the time to adjust their privacy settings. But with the changes unveiled Wednesday, all users will have to go through a privacy configuration wizard to set their preferences.

Critics say that's where the problems start.

Users who had not previously selected their own privacy settings, and who now go with Facebook's default settings, will be publishing their status messages and wall posts to everyone on the Internet. That will mark a change for most users because until now, Facebook's default settings restricted this material to friends and people within a person's network.

The change will be most noticeable to people who used the default settings in the past and decide to stick with Facebook's new defaults, Schwartz said. "If you haven't set your settings in the past, you'll probably be surprised by what happens," he said. "You'll probably show up in Google."

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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