Facebook Gets More Private

The social networking site adds greater granularity to what viewers can share with their friends as the company closes on MySpace.

Facebook, stung last year by criticism after its Beacon ad program broadcasted online activities about users, has created new privacy controls to grant its 68 million users more authority over the information they share on the social site.

Rolled out March 19, the features will let users share and filter information, such as photos or info about their online activities, based on specific friends or the friend list option.

This is a departure from Facebook's former policy of letting users exclude whole groups of friends, based on towns or schools, but users claimed this limited profile approach to certain friends was not granular enough.

Facebook also added a Friends of Friends privacy option that allows people to share information with people they are connected to through their friends, the company said in a statement.

More granular privacy features are sure to be a hit with Facebook's millions of users.

Some users of Facebook, MySpace and other social sites have lent themselves to trouble and cost themselves job opportunities by posting titillating photos of themselves on the site, a fertile ground for career recruiters looking for new talent.

Users could use the new privacy features to create walls between personal and professional "friends," creating a more business-friendly networking site, as noted by Josh Catone March 18 in ReadWriteWeb.

Facebook itself has suffered from its quest to let users share information. Many users were appalled last year by the Beacon marketing tool that tracked their digital footprints and revealed information about their purchases or movie-going to friends.

When MoveOn.org fired up a petition, more than 80,000 people signed it, forcing an apology from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and a revision of the Beacon tool as purely opt-in.

In other Facebook news, the company said it is weeks away from releasing an instant messaging feature in Facebook that will let friends chat on the site instead of just connecting them via e-mail.

Facebook Chat should be hugely popular or Facebook users; several Web 2.0 pundits have said many Web users eschew e-mail in favor of IM whenever possible. Just like Facebook, Chat will work inside a Web browser so users do not have to download any software.

Finally, some observers have deduced that despite the fact that MySpace has about 110 million users to Facebook's 68 million, Facebook is gaining on the leader.

Silicon Alley Insider's Peter Kafka drilled down into the latest comScore stats to find that Facebook notched 100.7 million unique visitors worldwide in January to MySpace's 109.3 million.

Given Facebook's international appeal, it's no surprise why its has rolled out Spanish, French and German iterations of its sites in recent months.