Facebook Tweaks Privacy Settings, Allows More Control

Facebook plans to roll out new settings allowing users more control over how they share personal information, giving the reigning social network a facelift, so to speak.

Facebook users will soon be able to choose specific audiences for every photo, text post, tag and video using something the social network calls an “inline.” Until now, those controls existed on a separate section of users’ profiles, a fact many people found cumbersome.

Now, reportedly every piece of content on users’ profiles will have a drop-down menu listing its visibility level. In other words, users can choose to share something only with their “friends” list, with “friends of friends,” with “everyone” on or off Facebook, or with a “custom” hand-picked list of people.

“Your profile should feel like your home on the web — you should never feel like stuff appears there that you don’t want, and you should never wonder who sees what’s there,” Facebook stated in a post.

Facebook and other social media have received criticism for controls that may cause users to accidentally share information with a wider audience than intended. Consequently, users requested the ability to more easily target smaller groups with certain information.

Google’s social network, Google+, did just that with its “Circles” feature this past June, gathering more than 20 million world-wide unique visitors in its first full month.

Facebook’s vice president for product, Chris Cox said the social network has been working on the update for six months. He dismissed the notion Facebook’s planned changes respond to emerging competitor Google+, stating, “We are launching this now because it is ready.”

“It is all about making it easier to share with exactly who you want and never be surprised about who sees something,” Cox said, adding the new controls are “absolutely critical” to Facebook’s future success.

In addition to better positioning Facebook as rivals begin to encroach on its territory, the changes may be an early salvo in the social network’s campaign allowing users under the age of 13 access to the site.

This past May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, speaking at a conference on private investment, said younger children should be allowed on Facebook for educational purposes. He added Facebook can play a role in new software and technology that will enable young people to learn from sharing with their fellow students in the future.

“That will be a fight we take on at some point,” Zuckerberg said about the issue of allowing younger kids on the site. “My philosophy is that for education, you need to start at a really, really young age.”

As it stands today, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, keeps websites from collecting the information of those under 13. The agency works to restrict children from joining sites like Facebook, which has no measures like parental notifications and therefore does not comply with COPPA’s law.

While Facebook’s new plan to increase users’ control and enhance privacy isn’t yet enough to ensure younger kids’ safety, it may be a step in that direction.

The new privacy options will debut on August 25. They are not expected to change users’ current privacy or default settings.

This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.