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Facebook Confirms: "Simple" Privacy Settings on the Way

After one of the most tumultuous months in its young history, Facebook is planning to announce new features that are intended to offer its hundreds of millions of users simpler privacy choices.

The last few weeks have not been kind to the Internet's second most popular Web site, which has been pilloried by privacy activists and slammed by some members of Congress. The flap has spawned clever interactive graphics showing how Facebook has gradually exposed more user data, tools to fix your privacy settings, and reports of internal discord among employees who may fear that the negative attention would jeopardize a lucrative public stock offering.

A Facebook spokesman on Friday confirmed that the changes will arrive "shortly," without elaborating. "The messages we've received are pretty clear," Andrew Noyes said. "Users appreciate having precise and comprehensive controls, but want them to be simpler and easier to use. They also like the new programs we have rolled out, but want simple and easy ways to opt out of sharing personal information with applications and websites."

While the recent focus on Facebook started with its announcements in late April at the F8 developers conference, which included deeper connections with partner Web sites, concerns have been building for a long time. There was the outcry over the now-defunct Beacon advertising program, CEO Mark Zuckerberg's remarks last December about pushing users to disclose more, and brief eruptions including Thursday's disclosure of Facebook sharing some data with advertisers in possible violation of its privacy policy.

No wonder you're starting to see tips -- including a CNET FAQ we published earlier in the day -- on how to irrevocably delete your Facebook account. (Yes, there's even a Facebook group.)

The new controls, which could arrive as early as next week, will feature simpler and easier to use controls for users who care about them, while continuing to offer granular controls for those who want them as well, a company source said. No doubt the New York Times will redraw its helpful road map to Facebook's privacy options.

When the generally laissez-faire Economist writes an article saying regulators may be able to "justly" target Facebook, and the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan warns that "when we lose our privacy, we lose some of our humanity," these are signs that Zuckerberg has lost the zeitgeist. So is the flood of money to the ephemeral idea of Diaspora. (Time magazine's cover story featuring an interview with Zuckerberg, on the other hand, was far more flattering.)

Some of these news clippings almost appear to have been copied and pasted from The Onion, which has been covering the issue in its own way. There was the Facebook phishing scam that snared a board member and a security hole that leaked some private messages. Then there's the October release of Facebook: The Movie, starring Jesse Eisenberg and Justin Timberlake, which appears to be using a different name to keep the lawyers at bay.

The danger here lies, as it often does, in regulatory overreach.

Read the rest of this article at CNET

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