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Facebook aims to simplify privacy options

Facebook yesterday announced a series of changes that will make it easier for users to control who can see the comments, photos, tags and other posts that appear on their individual Facebook pages.

While most of the privacy options already exist, they are tucked away in a “settings” page or are less obvious to the more casual Facebook user. By making these controls more accessible, Facebook is hoping that members will have a better understanding of what they share and with whom.

The changes are organized around two main areas: what shows up on an individual’s profile, and what happens when an individual shares something new.

In the first case, Facebook is trying to give users complete control over what appears on their Profile pages. Before, it was possible to hide or be selective about who could see a user's basic information and interests but that meant hunting through a complex series of options on the privacy settings pages. Instead, those options will now appear alongside each user's profile information in the form of icons and dropdown menus.

This may be most useful when it comes to photos and other content that a user has been “tagged” in. Many Facebook users have logged on to their Facebook accounts only to be surprised by embarrassing or compromising photographs bearing their name. A new control now allows a user to approve or reject any photo or post they are tagged in before it’s visible on their Profile page. (Keep in mind that tagged photos or content will still be visible on the Facebook page of the person that applied the tags.)

Users also have the right to approve or reject any tag that someone tries to add to their own photos and posts.

When it comes to sharing, Facebook is putting the privacy controls right alongside each post. New sharing icons will replace the old padlock symbol, which was confusing to many and rarely used. The “Everyone” option is being replaced by the word “Public,” leaving no doubt as to who can see content under the most widely-shared option.

Previously, if you accidentally posted to the wrong people or you changed your mind about who could see a specific post, you were stuck. Facebook will now allow users to go back and adjust the settings for individual posts. While that may still be too late for more serious indiscretions, at least there is now some help at damage control.

There are also new options for removing third-party content and tags. Now you have a choice of removing just the tag, removing all the content, messaging the content owner or “tagger,” and requesting the content get taken down.

There are other changes which appear to relax previous privacy options rather than strengthen them. Before, you could only tag someone if you were friends with them – a useful barrier to being tagged by a complete stranger. Now you can add tags of friends or anyone else on Facebook. (As discussed above, if you are the subject of a tag, it won’t appear on your profile until you review and approve the post.)

The changes will start rolling out over the next several days. When your account is updated, you will see a prompt for a “tour” of the new features.

Will these changes help strengthen the privacy options on Facebook? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!

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