NEW YORK – Facebook Inc. on Thursday moved to give new and existing users more control over who can see their posts and other shared information, rolling out a pair of changes that will encourage members to regularly review their privacy settings and limit the default viewing audience for first-time posters.
In its announcement, the social networking site unveiled both an expanded “privacy checkup” tool that will take users through several steps to review the privacy of “key pieces of information” on their profiles, as well as a change to the default sharing setting for new members’ first post from “public” to “friends.”
The new privacy checkup tool, which the company expects to roll out “over the next few weeks,” is intended to respond to feedback that the site has received from existing users that they are worried that they are sharing something by accident or with the wrong audience, according to the news release.
“We want to do all we can to put the power and control in people’s hands,” the company said. “This new tool is designed to help people make sure they are sharing with just the audience they want.”
The new feature works by launching a privacy checkup box when a user visits the site. The box, which features the blue “privacy dinosaur” that the site has used in the past, tells users that the company wants “to make sure you’re sharing with the right people” and prompts them to follow three steps to “quickly make sure your privacy is up to date and everything is correct.”
The tool then informs users about who can currently see their posts, which apps they use and have permission to access their data and who can view certain types of personal information they post to the site, including their hometown, employer, email address, phone number and birth date.
A similar desire to give users greater control over what they are sharing also prompted the site to make the shift to a more restrictive privacy setting for posts shared by first-time users, according to the company.
“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,” the company said its announcement. “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.”
In light of its conclusion, the company has elected to enact a new policy that states that when people join Facebook, the default audience of their first post will be set to allow only friends to view it, instead of the current default that shares the post with the public.
First-time posters will also see a reminder to choose an audience for their first post, although the company stressed that the new default “friend” setting will apply even if they don’t make an audience choice.
Users will also still be able to change the intended audience of a post at any time, and can change the privacy of their past posts as well, the site added.
The changes mark the latest efforts by Facebook to respond to widespread criticism over the way that users’ data is shared with other members and third-party advertisers.
Over the past few months, the company has introduced a reminder that alerts people who have chosen to post publicly that their update will be shared with a broad audience; a simplification to the tool that allows users to select their audience for a post, an anonymous log-in feature that enables users to log into third-party apps without sharing any personal information from Facebook, and a redesigned app control dashboard where users can see a list of apps they use, manage specific permissions or remove apps entirely.
Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan hinted at the changes during a conversation at the International Association of Privacy Professionals’ annual summit in March, saying that the company was planning to roll out new tools soon that would enable users to better understand how their information is being used by third-party advertisers and outside sites that ask them to link to Facebook.
“People need to understand what data is being collected and how it’s going to be used and disclosed,” Egan said at the time. “If users don’t get it, or they’re surprised, that’s not good for me.”
Besides the recent changes aimed at giving users more control over how their data is being used and disclosed, the site has also embarked on several changes that have elicited backlash, including the introduction of a new feature for mobile phones announced on Wednesday that allows users to turn on their phone’s microphone to pick up a song or program playing in the background that they want to include in a status update.
The site has also faced criticism over changes that it made to its data use policy in August that clarified that it can use members’ pictures in ads.
The tweak was prompted by the approval of a contested $20 million privacy settlement that required the company to make changes to its policies in order to give minor and adult users more information about how their names and likenesses are employed in connection with ads displayed through the site’s Sponsored Stories program, a pact that several users are currently pushing the Ninth Circuit to throw out.