Facebook introduced a host of new privacy controls on Wednesday that give users easier ways to determine who can see their posts and photos, while taking away one setting that allows the social network's members to
block their "Timeline" pages from turning up when others search for them.
The changes come as Facebook and other Internet giants face continued questions from privacy advocates and regulators who are concerned about how personal information is shared across the Web. Facebook is also under pressure to expand its business, however, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has talked about finding new ways for users to search for friends and other information on the world's largest social network.
Facebook says its new tools should make it simpler for users to set limits on who can see their personal information. The company is modifying its main toolbar to include shortcuts to key privacy settings and also providing more controls in the "activity log," where users can see how they appear in different places on the social network.
Other changes include more explicit requests for permission to share certain information, as well as explanations of where information may appear on the network. These appear as the user takes actions such as downloading an app or decide whether to remove an item from their Timeline.
Facebook is also making it easier for users to ask friends to remove photos they don't like. Overall, the new tools are aimed at simplifying privacy controls that have been criticized as overly complicated and confusing in the past.
But one change may bother some users. Facebook used to have a setting that let individuals keep their "Timeline" hidden from other users who search for them by name. The "Timeline" is a single page for each user where most of their photos and updates are displayed.
Facebook allows users to keep items off their Timeline, although those photos or posts may appear elsewhere on the network. A user who doesn't like her appearance in a friend's photo, for example, can keep it off her own Timeline but can't remove it from the friend's page.
In a blog post, Facebook manager Samuel Lessin said few people use the setting that hides their Timelines, and noted that "the setting didn't prevent people from finding others in many other ways across the site."
Lessin told Reuters news service that the changes should make users more comfortable as they interact on the social network. "When users don't understand the concepts and controls and hit surprises, they don't build the confidence they need," he told Reuters.
Watchdog groups and regulators are concerned about how Facebook and other Internet companies handle their users' personal information. Last year, Facebook settled a complaint by the Federal Trade Commission, without admitting wrongdoing, by agreeing not to change users' privacy settings without their consent.
Earlier this week, Facebook adopted some changes in its terms of service that allow it to combine user data from the social network with information from Instagram, the photo-sharing service that Facebook bought earlier this year. The changes also loosened some restrictions on how users can contact each other on the network.
Some privacy advocates have complained that those earlier changes may violate Facebook's settlement with the FTC, although the commission has not issued any finding on that question. Facebook allowed users to vote on those changes, and more than 500,000 digital ballots were cast in opposition. But that number fell short of the 300 million that Facebook's policy required to make the election binding.
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