Facebook writes new privacy policy for users, not lawyer

Facebook released proposed changes to its policy Thursday and created a tutorial to answer questions about privacy. But the changes don't do anything to alter what data Facebook collects.

Facebook released Privacy Basics to help users understand who can see information they share.

It's been a struggle for most users to understand what information websites collect. But the world's biggest social network is trying to make it a bit easier.

Facebook released proposed changes to its terms, data policy, and cookies policy on Thursday. The new policy is shorter and easier for users to understand. The proposed policy is 2,700 words, down from 9,000. Facebook will be taking comments and questions about the new policy for the next seven days. The announcement included a new "Privacy Basics" guide to help users understand who can see information that is posted.  

"Every day, people use our apps and services to connect with the people, places and things they care about," Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said in a statement. "Our updates reflect the new products we’ve been working on to improve your Facebook experience. They also more clearly explain how our services work."

Facebook worked with Genie Barton, who enforces behavioral-advertising guidelines for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, to update the policy. Ms. Barton said the council has been pushing Facebook to create a simpler policy for users. 

“If you write a policy for lawyers, it will be read by lawyers,” Ms. Barton told The Wall Street Journal. “For users, it’s got to be completely different.”

In addition to the proposed policy changes, Facebook released a Privacy Basics tutorial to answer questions about what data is collected. This builds on "Privacy Checkup" in September, which included tips to help users control their privacy.

"Privacy Basics offers interactive guides to answer the most commonly asked questions about how you can control your information on Facebook," Ms. Egan wrote. "For example, you can learn about untagging, unfriending, and blocking, and how to choose an audience for your posts." 

Facebook has gotten a lot of scrutiny about the way it informs users about the information it collects. In 2011, Facebook and the Federal Trade Commission came to an agreement that the company must ask users' permission before changing the way personal data is gathered.

The growth in online tracking is causing a public backlash. A recent Pew Research study found that 91 percent of Americans feel that they have no control over what personal data is collected online. 

"[T]here's an overwhelming sense that consumers have lost control over the way their personal information is collected and used by companies." Mary Madden, senior researcher for Pew, told The Christian Science Monitor Wednesday. 

Though Facebook's new policy and tutorial explain what information the company collects, Facebook isn't revising the amount of information it collects on users.

The new data-use statement explains that Facebook can collect location information through the mobile app using GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi networks. Facebook also collects credit-card details, location data, and contact information when users purchase something through the website. In October, Facebook announced it would begin letting businesses advertise to users who lived in close proximity, and Thursday, the company announced it would expand its program of targeting ads based on browsing habits to include marketers outside the US.

"People sometimes ask how their information is shared with advertisers. Nothing is changing with these updates—we help advertisers reach people with relevant ads without telling them who you are," Egan wrote.

Facebook did make a change that will make it easier for users to opt out of ads based on apps and sites used through the Digital Advertising Alliance. If you opt out of the service, it will be applied across every device. 

"We hope these updates improve your experience. Protecting people’s information and providing meaningful privacy controls are at the core of everything we do, and we believe today’s announcement is an important step," Egan wrote. "We look forward to hearing people’s feedback and continuing to build the trust people have in Facebook."

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