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article imageFacebook faces widespread criticism over privacy changes

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By Gemma Fox     Dec 10, 2009 in Internet
Social networking site Facebook has today faced criticism from bloggers and digital rights groups about the changes they've made to their privacy policy.
Critics of the new changes said that users were being "nudged" towards sharing updates on the wider web and towards making them easier to find on search engines. The critics also said that the changes, rolled out on December 9 were "unwelcome".
Beginning yesterday users logging into Facebook faced a pop up screen asking them to update their privacy settings.
Facebook Screenshots - privacy pop-up
Facebook Screenshots - privacy pop-up
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Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the US based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said, "Facebook is nudging the settings toward the 'disclose everything' position. That's not fair from the privacy perspective."
EPIC also said that they would analyse the changes that Facebook had made to see if they "amounted to trickery".
The Electronic Frontier Foundation said on their website: These new 'privacy' changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data.
However it does list some of the good points of the changes, one being: Facebook is forcing all of its users to actually pay attention to the specifics of their privacy settings. Considering that many if not most users have previously simply adopted the defaults offered by Facebook rather than customizing their privacy settings, this is an especially good thing.
The EFF points out a negative which it paints as an "ugly" change: ...things get downright ugly when it comes to controlling who gets to see personal information such as your list of friends. Under the new regime, Facebook treats that information — along with your name, profile picture, current city, gender, networks, and the pages that you are a "fan" of — as "publicly available information" or "PAI." Before, users were allowed to restrict access to much of that information. Now, however, those privacy options have been eliminated. For example, although you used to have the ability to prevent everyone but your friends from seeing your friends list, that old privacy setting — shown below — has now been removed completely from the privacy settings page.
Tests on the new privacy changes began in mid 2009 and were then rolled out site-wide. The changes allow user to decide whether or not their updates should be available to the entire web or only the 350 million Facebook users.
Facebook Screenshots - new settings page
Facebook Screenshots - new settings page
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However Facebook said that the changes they had made were not meant to trick users into revealing too much but were to enable users to manage the updates that they wanted to share.
According to BBC News, a spokesman for Facebook, Barry Schnitt, said, "Any suggestion that we're trying to trick them into something would work against any goal that we have. Facebook would encourage people to be more open with their updates because, he said, that was in line with 'the way the world is moving'."
He also said that the new changes should allow users to "tune the audience for an update or status change so default settings of openness should have less impact" and that users could avoid revealing some information by leaving the gender and location fields blank.
Privacy campaigners have criticised Facebook's decision to show members location and gender to everyone.
TechCrunch blogger Jason Kincaid, points out that the new changes were geared towards making Facebook easier for use on search engines like Google and Bing.
Equally critical is blogger Michael Kirkpatrick who writes in his blog: This is not what Facebook users signed up for. It's not about privacy at all, it's about increasing traffic and the visibility of activity on the site.
He writes that in a press call with Facebook earlier in the year, the company said that they wanted users to post more publicly therefore he expected that there would be a call site-wide for users to loosen their privacy settings but he didn't expect this move. He wrote: A much more honest approach to privacy would be to encourage users to create lists of contacts and encourage them to select which list any update was visible to. Instead, that's greatly underemphasized.
The backlash continues on the Facebook official blog where users claim to have reduced their use of the site or drastically edited their profiles to prevent their information being seen web-wide
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