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Facebook developing new privacy policy for users

Critics feel changes, new tools helpful but still not enough

SAN JOSE, Calif. – Facebook is rewriting its privacy policy in plain-spoken English, and preparing new tools to show users how their personal data is used.

“We’re really an innovative, cutting-edge company on a lot of different fronts, and I think we feel like, why can’t we be innovators in privacy as well?” Michael Richter, Facebook’s chief privacy counsel, said in an interview this week. “The company cares about privacy.”

Nevertheless, some critics say Facebook is still not telling consumers enough about what it knows about them, and about how the social networking site and its business partners use that information. The Federal Trade Commission and some members of Congress are prodding the Palo Alto, Calif., company about privacy practices like the company’s recent decision to let third-party developers access the telephone numbers of users who allow it.

Facebook’s intent to simplify its privacy disclosures, and to create interactive software tools to allow users to see how Facebook and application developers access their data, has drawn praise from some privacy advocates. But, “until Facebook tells its 600 million members what it tells its major advertisers and marketing partners – on how to configure its system to generate data and other desired ad responses – it is failing to protect user privacy,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “We intend to push the FTC and Congress to force Facebook to come clean about its data privacy practices.”

Compared to the existing 5,900-word privacy statement, the proposed new policy is easier to read and full of graphics that illustrate how Facebook works.

While privacy advocates say the intent is good, few are convinced the more plain-spoken policy will keep many people informed about their privacy choices.

Ryan Calo, director of the Consumer Privacy Project at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, says a privacy policy cannot be both succinct and thorough. “I am completely skeptical of privacy policies as a way to inform users,” he said. “Nobody reads them.”

Calo said, however, he is more excited about interactive tools Facebook is proposing that would allow users to do things like build their own ad on Facebook, to demonstrate that the website does not share an individual’s data with advertisers targeting a specific demographic.


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