Facebook's Revamped Privacy Settings Raise Concerns


As of Wednesday, 350 million Facebook users will receive prompts from the social network requesting that they review and update their privacy settings when they log into their profile. Ignoring the prompts will automatically default privacy settings to "everyone" mode -- meaning that everyone in the network will have access to information shared on the site.

Upon logging in, Facebook users will be treated to a transition tool, which will direct them to update old privacy settings, while offering suggested new settings.

Ostensibly, the idea behind the privacy changes was to give users direct control over what information they share and with whom. For example, users may want to post a status update promoting a project or business to their larger Facebook network, but share personal information with a much smaller community.

Facebook executives maintain that the policy changes empower users to have more control over their privacy.

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"The plan we've come up with is to remove regional networks completely and create a simpler model for privacy control where you can set content to be available to your friends, friends of your friends, or everyone," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a company blog post last week. "We're adding something that many of you have asked for—the ability to control who sees each individual piece of content you create or upload."

However, some groups have expressed concerns that Facebook's new policies have set the stage to inadvertently expose the personal data of millions of users on the Internet. Facebook estimates that 80 to 85 percent of its users have thus far retained the default "everyone" privacy settings. And many are likely unaware of the updated policies changes or the subsequent ramifications, critics say. If left unchanged, millions of users could expose personal data that could eventually become fodder for larger Internet searches while continuing to believe the information they shared on their network remained private, critics argue.

"These new 'privacy' changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before," said Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy rights organization, in a blog post. "Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data."

However, critics contend that Facebook's updated policies will ultimately diminish user's control over who has access to their personal information posted online. Privacy rights advocates argue that over time, the social networking giant Facebook has evolved to actually become less private, migrating from an inter-college network to one that connects company employees, and eventually, to the existing massive commercial network open to anyone with an e-mail address.

As of late, Facebook has been undergoing some changes in the privacy arena. Prior to the updated privacy setting changes, the social networking site eliminated its regional networks earlier this month.