Criticism compels Facebook to promise better privacy control

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by TRICIA MANNING-SMITH / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on May 25, 2010 at 10:45 PM

SEATTLE - Facebook promises to unveil easier privacy controls, possibly as early as Wednesday. This comes after a firestorm of criticism over Facebook sharing users' private profile info.

Sitting at his laptop at Capitol Hill's Victrola coffee bar, Josh Hart unknowingly provides a perfect example of the problem. By sharing his life and interests with his 151 Facebook friends, he has also been sharing his personal likes and dislikes with outside Internet sites.

Twenty-six-year-old Hart points to an ad on the side of his screen.

"They know that I'm a chef from my profile, so they're targeting me," he said.

The ad tries to entice Hart to sign up for a culinary class.

Critics are slamming Facebook for sharing user profile information with other sites like yelp.com and pandora.com, in part through Facebook's new "Instant Personalization" program.

Here's how it works: If you go to the Internet radio station pandora.com for the first time, that site can look directly into your Facebook profile. It takes Facebook info you've made public, like your friends and interests. Then, Pandora will automatically play music by artists listed in your Facebook profile.

Facebook says "Instant Personalization" is designed to enhance a person's Internet experience. But the co-editor of the weblog readwriteweb.com explains the potential problem.

"There's a risk that people will feel uncomfortable with the web... with their data being used and exposed," said Marshall Kirkpatrick.

Liz Gannes with gigaom.com calls the feature a "powerful, inventive and creepy tool."

Facebook also came under fire recently for sharing or selling users' personal info to advertisers - an accusation Facebook denies.

Facebook user Jay Wolberg feels violated.

"It's tough to complain for a service that's free and that I'm voluntarily using. But again, it's a trade-off," said Wolberg.

Concerns over privacy have compelled other users to close their Facebook accounts.

Now, Facebook promises simplified privacy settings to help users lock down their info. Their announcement comes after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's admission in Monday's Washington Post: "Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls, but that may not have been what many of you wanted. We just missed the mark... In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services."

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