Facebook to simplify privacy controls

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Facebook confirmed Tuesday that it will simplify its privacy settings, in a move aimed at quelling growing concerns over how much user information is exposed online.

"I can confirm that our new, simpler user controls will begin rolling out tomorrow (Wednesday). I can't say more yet," Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement.

The popular social networking site, which boasts nearly 500 million users, has been under fire in the past few months for confusing privacy policies and technical glitches that exposed users' private data.

Currently, Facebook has about 170 different privacy options that govern access to personal data users post online, including birth dates, e-mail addresses and employment information.

In early May, a technical mishap allowed a number of users to view friends' private chats. That came less than three months after some Facebook users received private messages that weren't intended for them, the result of another technical glitch.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, has admitted to making some mistakes on privacy and promised to fix the problems.

"There needs to be a simpler way to control your information," Zuckerberg wrote in an op-ed piece published Monday in the Washington Post. "In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services," he said.

Meanwhile, Facebook has invited members of the House and Senate to attend a briefing in Washington on Thursday to go over the new privacy tools and answer questions.

The site's recent privacy problems have drawn the ire of some particularly vocal lawmakers.

In April, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, and three other Senators called on Facebook in a sharply worded letter to stop sharing users' personal information with third party Web sites.

Schumer subsequently urged the Federal Trade Commission to provide guidelines for social networking sites, including Facebook, on how private information submitted by online users can be used and disseminated.

But Facebook is not the only Internet powerhouse struggling with privacy issues.

In February, Google modified an automated feature on its social network service, Google Buzz, following a backlash from users whose contacts were revealed to the public without their authorization.

"The rules of engagement with social media sites keep changing and this has created an environment where users are often forced to learn through trial and error," said Mary Madden, senior researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"Personal information has become a form of currency that we exchange in order to participate in the economy of networking today," she continued. "And while many services are free to use, we pay for access to these tools with the information we share."

-- CNN's Laurie Segall contributed to this report.  To top of page

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