Fresh Facebook Privacy Changes Coming Next Year

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Facebook makes its umpteenth privacy update of 2012, but it still isn’t impressing some critics

Bowing to pressure from concerned users and regulators, Facebook has announced some more privacy changes which should make it simpler for users to alter settings.

Facebook privacy has consistently been under the spotlight over the last few years, and recently the social networking giant has faced pressure to improve from data privacy regulators in Ireland – the company’s home outside of the US.

It had been forced into killing its facial recognition technology in Europe earlier this year and is now facing a lawsuit from an Austrian group after more than a year of campaigning for changes. At the same time, Facebook and the US government are lobbying fiercely in Brussels to get proposed EU privacy rules changed.

In this latest update, the most visible change, due to be introduced next year, will be the addition of privacy shortcuts. These will appear at the top right area of the Facebook interface will include  “Who can see my stuff?”, “Who can contact me?” and “How do I stop someone from bothering me?”.

Facebook privacy improvements

Facebook is also bringing in more granular controls over app permissions. “For example, a person can grant a music app the ability to read their public profile and friends list to personalise their experience in the app, but decline to allow it to post what they listen to to Facebook on their behalf,” explained Samuel Lessin, Facebook’s director of product management.

Users will also soon see “in-context notices”, which provide information on where data can still be seen on Facebook. The image below shows how that will work: A Request and Removal tool for taking action on multiple photos is also being added, as is an updated Activity Log, with fresh navigation designed to make it easier for users to look at what they’ve been up to on the site.

Yet despite some changes, Facebook has still drawn criticism from some quarters. The social network is also  retiring the “Who can look up my timeline by name” setting, claiming it did not stop people being found in other ways than through a search.

But Lisa Vaas, from security company Sophos, said Facebook should have made the feature work better, rather than killing it completely.

“It’s the wrong direction. If the original setting was limited in scope and failed to do what it purported – e.g., choose who can find you – why not rework it so as to actually protect people’s privacy and give them the right to not be found?” wrote Vaas, in a blog post.

“Why not patch those privacy leakage holes, those ‘many other ways across the site’ that allow people to find those who don’t want to be found?”

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