Time for a 'Privacy Checkup,' says Facebook

In coming weeks, all 1.28 billion Facebook users will go through a 'privacy checkup' that will ensure they know who can see their information, plus the default audience of posts will switch to 'Friends Only.'

Michael Dalder/FILE/REUTERS
An illustration picture shows a woman looking at the Facebook website on a computer in Munich in this February 2, 2012 file photo. Facebook is upping its privacy transparency.

On the heels of several initiatives aimed at getting users to share more information, Facebook is making sure users know who can see the information they share: close friends, networks, or the general public.

The initiative is called a “Privacy Checkup” and it is being rolled out to every one of Facebook’s 1.28 billion users. The feature will go through every part of a person’s Facebook page to be sure users are aware of who can see their information. In addition, all new posts will be shared with “Friends Only” by default. This appears to be a step away from Facebook’s previous actions regarding privacy, and comes at a time when privacy advocates are pressuring tech companies to make policies less complicated.

The next time users log onto Facebook, the social media site will guide users through every detail of their profile to ensure they are aware of who can see what data. This includes sharing information such as e-mail addresses and phone numbers, as well as double-checking that users are aware of what applications can access their Facebook account. Users can still decide what audience they want to share each individual post with, but the menu has been simplified. On the mobile app, “audience” now appears highlighted at the top of each status update separate from location, and feeling and activities options.

Previously, the default audience for posts was “Public,” as Facebook attempted to make the site a more open flow of information, especially about current events, similar to Twitter.

Now it appears that Facebook recognizes social media users are still interested in sharing information about their lives, but want transparency as well as autonomy over their level of privacy.

“While some people want to post to everyone, others have told us that they are more comfortable sharing with a smaller group, like just their friends,” Facebook says in a blog post announcing the change. “We recognize that it is much worse for someone to accidentally share with everyone when they actually meant to share just with friends, compared with the reverse.”

A few weeks ago Facebook also rolled out “Anonymous Login,” which allows people to log in to a third-party application that works with Facebook without allowing that application to see any of the user’s information.

“[Facebook has] gotten enough privacy black eyes at this point that I tend to believe that they realized they have to take care of consumers a lot better,” says Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, to the New York Times.

That being said, Facebook is still interested in encouraging sharing on its social media site and mobile app. In the past few weeks, Facebook has released a relationship status “Ask” button, an “I Voted” button for upcoming elections, and a “Nearby Friends” feature that lets users locate friends in their vicinity.

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