Facebook Simplifies Security with Privacy Settings

Facebook looks to make a splash with changes designed to simplify and standardize its privacy settings. The push to improve privacy comes as Facebook is working to make profiles more searchable over the Web.

Facebook is simplifying its privacy options as it simultaneously looks to make it easier for members of the social networking site to share content with anyone on the Internet.

For starters, the company is consolidating about six privacy pages and roughly 40 settings onto one page. The site will also standardize the options for each setting so the choices are identical. In the past, users had to navigate multiple pages if they wanted to change the access policies for their various status updates, photo albums or links. As a result, sometimes content would be shared unintentionally.

"We believe that when tools are simple, people are more likely to use them and understand them," Chris Kelly, chief privacy officer for Facebook, said during a news conference July 1. "We found that too many privacy options may result in users not really appreciating what content they're sharing and with whom."

Facebook is also eliminating "regional networks," in which people could share their profiles with anyone in the same geographic area. This option actually decreased privacy, as some regional networks were too large and encompassed entire countries, noted Leah Pearlman, a Facebook product manager.

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"What we found was that while education or school and work networks are still really effective means of [maintaining] privacy-and these are not changing-the regional networks actually generated a lot of confusion for people and reduced some controls," Pearlman said during the news conference.

All these changes come as Facebook is set to allow users to make their content available not just to other users, but to the entire Web if they choose. In a new version of its Publisher, currently a beta, members can opt to share a given post with "Everyone" on the Internet, whether on or off Facebook. The new Facebook Publisher also includes privacy features that provide more granular control over individual pieces of content.

To help users move to the new settings, Facebook is offering a "transition tool" that allows users to transport their old privacy configurations over to the new settings. That means that if users have selected settings that restrict who has access to information, those choices are carried over.

Facebook officials pointed out that none of the changes affect what information Facebook provides to advertisers.