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Facebook tweaks its privacy controls

The social network is trying to make the settings easier for users to understand, but frequent changes may be defeating that purpose, a privacy expert says.

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By Jessica Guynn
Los Angeles Times
SAN FRANCISCO -- It's deja vu all over again for Facebook privacy.
Facebook says it's changing its privacy controls yet again to make them easier for users to understand.
One of the new features: privacy shortcuts that pop up on the right-hand side at the top of News Feeds that answer questions such as "Who can see my stuff?" You can also block someone with one click. Facebook is also rolling out a feature that allows people to more easily hide or remove posts that appear on their Timeline.
Justin Brookman, director for Center for Democracy & Technology's Project on Consumer Privacy, said he thinks it's positive that Facebook lets users know how to take steps to protect their privacy and "make sure their stuff is locked down the way they think it is."
But, he said, "the constant motion of privacy settings can be confusing for folks."
And Facebook users are going to need these new features because Facebook is taking away an important privacy setting that let users hide their Timeline from people who search for it.
Facebook declined to explain why it was removing the feature, other than to say it was used by a small percentage of users and that it can be confusing.
But this fall at a technology conference Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg gave a far more compelling reason to remove this privacy option: the company's move into search. And search on Facebook right now is people trying to find other people. It's not going to be a complete search experience if tens of millions of users don't let themselves be found.
The removal of this privacy feature comes one week after Facebook said it would loosen restrictions on who can message you on Facebook.
"I would prefer for Facebook to leave more privacy protection options," Brookman said.
University of Washington law professor Ryan Calo said "preserving obscurity is the best way to protect privacy. This is an example of a company taking obscurity away.
"It feels almost as though Facebook is trying to acclimate users -- even recalcitrant ones -- to a world of personal transparency," Calo said.
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a frequent Facebook critic on privacy issues, questioned if the removal of the privacy feature violated the terms of a privacy settlement Facebook reached with the Federal Trade Commission.
"Facebook's vision of its member base is a bunch of people naked, exposed and targeted at will by anyone who wants to do so," Chester said. "We are going to urge the commission to look at this closely."
©2012 Los Angeles Times
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