Facebook simplifies its privacy controls


Facebook privacy settings will become easier to change and users will be able to hide all of their information from third parties if they wish, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Wednesday.

The announcement came in response to sustained backlash from users concerned that the site’s recent privacy changes made too much of their information public.

“The feedback we’ve gotten from users really resonated with us,” Zuckerberg said in a conference call with reporters.

Facebook will begin rolling out the new privacy controls late Wednesday, he said.

Zuckerberg said Facebook’s new settings will give users “one simple tool” to control how their information is shared — with friends only, with friends of friends or with everyone.

A single click also will let users block all of their information from being accessed by third parties, such as game or application developers.

“All of the controls we had are still there if you want to use them,” Zuckerberg said. “But we just wanted to make it easy for people who want to put themselves in one bucket very easily with just a couple of clicks.”

The announcement marks a rare double-back for Facebook, the nearly ubiquitous networking site that has made a habit of rolling out changes, then weathering user grumbling until it subsides.

Among other changes, the site implemented a new tool last month that spreads user preferences and data across the Web. The tool allows Facebook users to more easily share articles and other Web pages they like, but at the same time makes those picks easier for others to see.

Some Facebook users also have been vocally opposed to changes that switched default settings to public.

The Web information-sharing function requires users to sign up for it. And privacy settings can be reset. But the current setup of about 170 settings requires negotiating what The New York Times called “a bewildering tangle of options” to make the switch.

Wednesday’s announcement addressed what Zuckerberg had acknowledged have been missteps with the site’s recent changes.

In a Sunday e-mail to tech blogger Robert Scoble, Zuckerberg — whom Scoble calls a friend and “someone I want to have a long-term relationship with” — acknowledged making mistakes with the privacy changes.

“I know we’ve made a bunch of mistakes, but my hope at the end of this is that the service ends up in a better place and that people understand that our intentions are in the right place and we respond to the feedback from the people we serve,” Zuckerberg said in the e-mail, which Scoble printed after receiving permission from the Facebook CEO.

In a Monday op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Zuckerberg said upcoming tweaks will make it simpler to use privacy controls and and provide an easy way to turn off all third-party services.

With more than 450 million users, Facebook has long outgrown its humble beginnings as a social site for tech-savvy college students.

Some social media experts say that while tech-fluent users can switch their settings with relative ease, a huge chunk of Facebook’s member base remains unaware of how to do so, exposing information they expect to be private.

Facebook said in December that 35 percent of users switched their privacy settings after a change that made some information public. Microsoft researcher and social media expert danah boyd (who spells her name with lower-case letters) said at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival that that number seems low.

“Are there Facebook users who want their content to be publicly accessible? Of course,” she said in March. “But 65 percent of all Facebook users? No way.”

Despite some organized efforts calling for people to quit Facebook, and questions about privacy from members of the U.S. Senate, the site has continued to grow at an amazing clip.

Web analytics firm comScore estimates the site has as many as 519 million users, which would be an increase of more than 100 million since last fall.