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Facebook Tweaks Controls to Remind Users About Privacy

Aims to Minimize Unpleasant Surprises

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Facebook has once again overhauled its privacy controls, this time adding what's akin to a privacy panic button to the top of users' screens.

The button, along with other changes being announced today, is intended to minimize unpleasant surprises for Facebook users (such as the boss seeing embarrassing photos they incorrectly thought were removed) with more visible reminders to be vigilant about tending to privacy settings.

Occupying the most conspicuous real estate is the privacy-settings button. It will sit next to the two familiar tabs that direct users to their news feeds and profile pages in the toolbar on the upper-right corner of most Facebook pages.

Clicking the button will open a box with the option to click through for information on "Who can see my stuff?," "Who can contact me?" and "How do I stop someone from bothering me?," which Facebook's manager of privacy and public policy, Rob Sherman, said are users' three main privacy-related concerns.

"Surprises are bad for us, and they're bad for our users," Mr. Sherman said. "We want to make sure people's information is visible in the ways that they want."

The revamped privacy controls also call for changing the configurations that permit apps to use data points like email addresses, birthdays and locations to post on users' timelines. While those permissions used to appear together in a single box when a user was choosing to opt in to an app, Mr. Sherman said that site feedback indicated those notifications were too text-heavy.

Going forward (with the exception of games), users opting in to apps will still be notified about data-collection practices, but the notifications requesting their consent to post on their behalf will come after the fact. One possible side effect: a reduction in the posting of spammy marketing messages that developers sometimes bundle into their apps' functionality, since users can now reject them.

"You'll still be able to use the app, but you won't be able to use the portions of the app that post back to Facebook," Mr. Sherman said.

In coming weeks, users will see a message at the top of Facebook pages directing them to carefully look through their photos to check their comfort levels with who has permission to see them. Going forward, in order to protect users from a false sense of security, the site will notify them that a photo removed from their timeline "still appears in search, news feed and other places on Facebook."

In those cases when the existence of an touchy photo distresses users even if their image isn't tagged and it isn't technically linked to their profile page, Facebook has streamlined the process to request taking it down. Within the "activity log," a chronicle of user activity including all comments, shares and photo tags that was launched last year, users will be able in one fell swoop to select multiple photos, untag themselves and ask the photos' owners to remove the pics.

Mr. Sherman said that Facebook has collaborated with both the Federal Trade Commission and the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, which oversees compliance for users outside of the U.S. and Canada, since the company's official international headquarters are in Dublin.

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