Facebook again streamlines privacy settings. Will it help the average user?

Facebook has instituted a series of new, simplified privacy controls. 

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    Facebook has overhauled its privacy controls yet again. Here, a screenshot of a tool that makes it easier to untag or remove photographs.
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Three years ago, after a spat of negative press, Facebook overhauled – and greatly simplified – its privacy settings. This week, the social networking giant has instituted another set of sweeping privacy changes, which it said would simplify how users control the content that appears in their feed. 

"We believe that the better you understand who can see the things you share, the better your experience on Facebook can be," Facebook's Samuel W. Lessin wrote in a press release. "We continue to strive toward three main goals: bringing controls in context where you share, helping you understand what appears where as you use Facebook, and providing tools to help you act on content you don't like." 

Among the changes: A series of shortcuts to privacy controls (in the past, you had to click to a separate page); a tool that streamlines the photo untagging or removal process; and a rejiggered Activity Log, where users can more quickly scan changes to their profile or new wall posts. The updated controls will go live by the end of the year. So hey, will the changes help the average user? 

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Well, over at CNET, Seth Rosenblatt acknowledges that Facebook is doing a "noble" thing in disentangling its settings. Still, he argues, "with frequent hard-to-understand changes to its various privacy policies, Facebook has mostly just fostered apathy in the vast majority of its subscribers – and confusion among those who are paying attention to what Facebook is doing with their activity and the resulting data." 

In related news, Facebook recently held a ballot on proposed changes to its Data Use Policy and Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, the guidelines that help govern the site. Among the changes was a promise to keep throwing future site changes up for a vote. But Facebook said it would only honor the results of the vote if 300 million users – 30 percent of all Facebook members – weighed in. 

In the end, only 668,000 people voted (most against the changes), so as the Register ruefully notes, Facebook's "brief experiment in social democracy [has been] snuffed." 

What do you make of the new Facebook privacy changes? Drop us a line in the comments section. And in the meantime, why not follow us on Twitter? Find us @venturenaut.

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