Facebook CEO Unveils Simplified Privacy Settings

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says company gave controls 'big overhaul.'

May 26, 2010, 3:00 PM

May 26, 2010— -- After a wave of criticism from Facebook users, lawmakers and the media over the company's privacy strategy, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today responded to user concerns and unveiled simplified privacy controls.

At a press conference at Facebook's Palo Alto, California, headquarters, Zuckerberg said the company listened to user feedback on privacy controls and has given them a "pretty big overhaul."

"The number one thing that we've heard is that through all these changes and building up more and more granular controls over time, the settings have become complex and it has become hard for people to use them," he said.

Zuckerberg said that over the next few days and weeks Facebook will roll out a new system that will let users change their settings from one privacy page and with a few clicks decide if friends, friends of friends or everyone will be able to see their information.

He said the settings will apply retroactively to information already on the site as well as to any new Facebook products moving forward.

Zuckerberg also said Facebook's changes will reduce the amount of basic information that is visible to everyone. Instead of making all friend lists and pages automatically public, he said people can choose who can see that information.

Facebook recommends that users keep the information public so that it's easier for others to find them, but it will let users control the information from the privacy page in "Basic Directory Information."

Another key change involved the controversial Instant Personalization feature, which instantly shared user data with some Web sites. Zuckerberg said that instead of having to contend with the previous system's complicated opt-out process, users could click just a few buttons to disable the feature.

"A lot of what we've heard is just that people want a simple way to control whenever any of their information is shared with third parties," he said, adding that the new controls also let users easily opt-out of the platform that shares user information with Facebook games and applications.

Zuckerberg said the feedback from users really "resonated" with the company and that designers and engineers worked weekends to get the simplified controls ready for users.

The 26-year-old CEO defended the company's approach to privacy and sharing, affirming several times that Facebook takes user privacy seriously.

"We really do believe in privacy and giving people control," he said.

But he also said that the feedback Facebook hears from users indicates that "how they believe they want to share is shifting."

Will Changes Be Enough to Satisfy Users, Privacy Advocates

When Facebook first announced its latest round of privacy changes at its developer conference a few weeks ago, privacy advocates and lawmakers criticized the company for pushing users to more openness.

The Instant Personalization feature, which automatically opted users into a system that shared their information with some Web sites drew the most vocal critics.

But Zuckerberg today defended the company's decision to leave the system opt-out.

"We think it's really important to help people share simply by default and we think we've made it really easy for people to change that if they want something different," he said. "People want to stay connected and share with the people around them and the best way to do that is to give them control."

The latest backlash traces back to Facebook's developer conference a few weeks ago, when Zuckerberg announced several changes intended to make the Web more social and personalized by expanding Facebook's presence to other sites.

On thousands of sites, including ABCNews.com, a "social plug-in" now lets users "like" content and see what their Facebook friends have liked, directly from those sites.

On three sites piloting an "instant personalization" feature, a user's profile information and friend list are automatically read by the site and used to shape the user's experience.

But over the past few weeks, some of those data-sharing changes have drawn criticism from users, lawmakers and privacy advocates, who argue that Facebook needs to give its more than 400 million members more control over the personal information they share on the site.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, and three other Democratic senators urged Facebook to reconsider its privacy changes and asked the Federal Trade Commission to create guidelines for Facebook and other social networks to follow.

Several high-profile personalities in the technology community publicly announced that they were deleting or deactivating their Facebook pages in response to the social network's new privacy policy.

Regular Facebook users have also indicated their frustrations with the company's changes on protest pages across the site.

More tech-savvy Facebook users have created dedicated Web sites intended to challenge Facebook's approach to privacy.

One site, called Openbook, aggregates all public Facebook posts into one constantly updated stream and lets visitors query the site for anything of interest. The founders said the point of the site is to draw attention to the amount of information about users that Facebook makes public.

Whether Facebook users and privacy advocates respond favorably to the changes outlined today remains to be seen, but Zuckerberg said the company had learned one key takeaway: "Don't mess with the privacy stuff for a long time."