Facebook Kicks Privacy Up A Notch, Or Three

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised earlier this week that the social networking giant would simplify its privacy settings and controls amid outcry that Facebook made it too difficult and complex for users to keep information private.

And on Wednesday, Zuckerberg and Facebook kept that promise, revealing three big changes to how Facebook handles user privacy, along with launching a Web site explaining how Facebook shares user information.

"We've focused on three things: a single control for your content, more powerful controls for your basic information and an easy control to turn off all applications," Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post Wednesday after a press conference.

The new privacy settings changes will be rolled out starting today and will hit all nearly 500 million Facebook users over the course of the next few weeks.

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First, Facebook built a new privacy settings page that gives users more control over who sees what they post. Using what Zuckerberg said is "one simple control," users can set the content created on Facebook to be shared with everyone, friends of friends or just friends. Zuckerberg said the same controls and settings will be available in future Facebook products as well.

Second, Facebook is giving users more control on what information is shared with other Facebook users. Users can block people from seeing their pages and their friends' pages. Zuckerberg cautioned, however, that blocking users could inhibit some people who users actually want finding their profile from doing so, noting that Facebook recommends "that you make these settings open to everyone. Otherwise, people you know may not be able to find you," which essentially takes some of the value out of Facebook. Those controls are accessible via a "Basic Directory Information" in the privacy settings area of Facebook.

Lastly, Zuckerberg said Facebook will make it easier for users to turn off access to Facebook information from third-party applications, games and Web sites.

"Many of you enjoy using applications or playing games, but for those of you who don't we've added an easy way to turn off Platform completely," Zuckerberg wrote. "This will make sure that none of your information is shared with applications or Web sites."

Users can also now prevent third-party and partner sites from seeing Facebook information by turning off the "instant personalization" feature, which enables third-parties to see Facebook information users have made public.

Facebook's new privacy settings and controls stem from outcry from users, Web watchdogs and even political leaders over recent changes Facebook made to its privacy settings. The debate stems from Facebook's sharing of users' information with third-party sites and companies and Facebook's forcing users to opt-out of sharing versus making sharing information an opt-in service.

"I am pleased to say that with these changes the overhaul of Facebook's privacy model is complete, Zuckerberg wrote. "If you find these changes helpful, then we plan to keep this privacy framework for a long time. That means you won't need to worry about changes. (Believe me, we're probably happier about this than you are.)"