Facebook reveals its 'biggest-ever' privacy shake-up

Facebook talks up privacy issues
Facebook talks up privacy issues

Founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has released an 'open letter' to the members of the social-networking site, where he outlines the biggest changes in privacy the website has seen so far.

In the letter he explains that Facebook is putting an end to regional networks – something that has been rumoured for some time – and streamlining the privacy options, to make them clearer to the user.

Zuckerberg notes: "We have focused on giving you the tools you need to share and control your information. Starting with the very first version of Facebook five years ago, we've built tools that help you control what you share with which individuals and groups of people. Our work to improve privacy continues today.

"Facebook's current privacy model revolves around 'networks' – communities for your school, your company or your region. This worked well when Facebook was mostly used by students, since it made sense that a student might want to share content with their fellow students…

"However, as Facebook has grown, some of these regional networks now have millions of members and we've concluded that this is no longer the best way for you to control your privacy. Almost 50 per cent of all Facebook users are members of regional networks, so this is an important issue for us. If we can build a better system, then more than 100 million people will have even more control of their information."

Everyone's invited

The new system is based around the idea that content is to be available to only your friends, friends of your friends, or everyone.

And, to go alongside this new privacy plan, each and every bit of content you add to the website can be toggled to go out to everyone, or to a selected group of people – including status updates.

TechRadar visited Facebook at its UK offices today and Richard Allan, Director of EU Public Policy, for the site told us: "This is the biggest exercise in getting users to gain control of their privacy settings that has happened.

"The key within this is the removal of regional networks. The pictures of the MI6 boss in his trunks happened because of a mix-up with regional networks.

"At the beginning it was fine to have a London network, but now there is several million people [in that network] so there is no real privacy.

"So now there is a clear everyone setting. If you don't want everyone, then you can narrow this down."

Temporary licenses

Allan also wanted to clear up a few myths about the website when it comes to privacy, telling us: "Facebook is very clear on privacy for the user. It doesn't sell personal information to advertisers, so brands don't get data about people and individuals, but aggregated stats. We have no commercial interest in doing so.

"Also, any information on the site is owned by you. Facebook has a temporary license [of this information]. But at any time you want to take that content off, you deactivate it or choose to delete it. Our privacy policy clearly states this.

What we have noticed is that the vast majority of users do deactivate, then reactivate again at a later date."

When asked about the some of the stories that have appeared about Facebook being a hot-bed for crime, Allan noted: "Facebook has become like Hoover – it's now a generic name for social networks. So when bad things happen somewhere else, Facebook is usually to blame. We work with law enforcement effectively."

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, Shortlist.com at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.