Facebook launches significant new privacy changes

Facebook has started rolling out changes that the giant social network says will make it easier for its members to protect their privacy.

Facbook is adding a new Privacy Shortcuts control that will appear next to the home button on the Facebook title bar. This will allow you to quickly determine who can see the content you post to the social network, who can contact you through your Facebook web page, and to block people who aren't really your friends.

The new feature takes a process that was difficult to navigate and consolidates it to a single click.

Improved Activity Log

Facebook is also improving the Activity Log for its members' accounts. The Activity Log is located below the cover photo on your timeline page.

When you click on the Activity Log, you can quickly find content that's been posted to your timeline in which you've been tagged, as well as items posted to your timeline listed in chronological order.

A Facebook timeline

The new privacy changes not only allow you to easily remove items you've been tagged in from your timeline but quickly request that the items be removed from the timelines where they originally appeared. Facebook even includes reasons you can check off as to why you want the photo removed from the Web. They include "it makes me sad."

Beside each item listed on your Activity Log are controls for determining who may see the content and how it should be handled on your timeline. If an item can be seen by everyone, for example, you may want to limit that to just your friends or to just your close friends.

By the same token, if an item appears on your timeline and you don't want it there, you can hide it from view.

Facebook has also made it easier to find items in the Activity Log by allowing you to filter what you see there by content type.

Pop-up explainers

In addition to the navigation and controls improvements to help members maintain their privacy, Facebook is also rolling out a contextual education feature. When you're about to make a privacy-oriented action, Facebook will pop up an explainer to help you understand the consequences of your action.

For example, if you remove something from your timeline posted there by a friend, Facebook will explain to you that while the item is gone from your timeline, it may still be seen on your friend's timeline.

"We believe that the better you understand who can see the things you share, the better your experience on Facebook can be," a Facebook spokesperson explained in an email.

She noted that the new updates are part of Facebook's continued efforts to bring controls in context where its members share, to help them to understand what appears where as they use Facebook, and to give them tools to help them act on content they don't like.

Search changes

Facebook is also changing its search feature, which is likely to give its members less privacy. It's removing the ability of members to hide themselves from Facebook search.

That feature has limited utility, according to Facebook's spokesperson. "The setting was very limited in scope and did not prevent people from finding others in many ways across Facebook," she explained.

According to Facebook, the number of members who choose to hide themselves from search as a percentage of total users is in the single digits. However, when you have one billion members, single digits can be a large number indeed.

The new changes to the Facebook website will be rolled out gradually, so that won't be available immediately to all users.

Facebook has had a checkered relationship with privacy in the past. In fact, these latest privacy changes are coming on the heels of the social network stirring up a privacy hornet's nest by revoking its members' ability to voteon changes it makes to its data usage and privacy policies.

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