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Facebook privacy policy receives a major overhaul

Facebook rolled out a completely revamped privacy policy this week that promises users simplified tools to protect their personal information.  In a Dec. 12 blog post announcing the changes, Facebook’s director of product management Samuel W. Lessin said the updates are designed to help users control what they share on the site and provide tools to help them act on content they don’t want shared.

Some of the changes include:

Privacy shortcuts and apps permissions. Under the Facebook privacy policy revamp, key settings such as privacy and timeline controls are available on the site’s main toolbar, rather than forcing users to navigate separate pages. The changes also alter application permission settings, providing users more control over what they share on their Facebook page.

Updated user education and activity logs. Under the new privacy policy, Facebook will provide in-context notices to users throughout the site. “We’ve created a series of messages to help you understand, in context, that the content you hide from your timeline may still appear in news feed, search and other places,” Lessin wrote. Facebook’s “activity log” will feature new navigation interfaces as well, designed to ease users’ ability to review their Facebook activity and to help them decide what they want made public on the site.

New tools to manage content. In Facebook’s updated activity log, there will be a new “request and removal tool” that allows users to take action on photos they are tagged in. “If you spot things you don’t want on Facebook, now it’s even easier to ask the people who posted them to remove them,” Lessin wrote.

The Facebook policy updates are scheduled to roll out before the end of the year, and come as online
remains a hot topic in the IT world. Earlier this month, Delta Air Lines Inc. became the first organization to be sued for potential violations of California’s Internet privacy law. The suit claims the mobile phone application “Fly Delta” violates the law because it does not adequately disclose what personal information is being collected from users and how that information will be distributed.

The U.S. government is paying attention to online and mobile privacy as well: This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of the Location Privacy Protection Act, which would require companies to get customers’ consent before collecting or sharing mobile location data. The move came just weeks after the same committee approved a bill to update privacy safeguards for email and other electronic communications.

As the quest for consumer privacy online continues, the federal government will likely keep seeking regulatory requirements to protect personal information. After being criticized for their privacy rules in the past, perhaps the new privacy policy is a sign that Facebook is trying to take the initiative and revamp consumer protection policies before regulatory compliance rules become the norm.

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