Facebook Makes Privacy Policy Easier to Read

Facebook unveiled several changes to its privacy policy yesterday. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and CEO, made the announcement at Facebook’s California headquarters at 1:45 p.m. PT.

In an effort to take some of the legalese out of a legal document, Facebook Inc. unveiled a new draft of its closely watched privacy policy. Photo: Edencc/Flickr

Social networking giant Facebook Inc. has often been at the recieving end due to its privacy policy. One major grouse being the way privacy policy is written and its length. Seems Facebook is eager to change that.

The company has just unveiled a draft of its closely watched privacy policy. Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and CEO, made the announcement at Facebook’s California headquarters at 1:45 p.m. PT yesterday.

“At Facebook, we are constantly developing new experiences and features to help you control your information,” the company said in a post on The Facebook Blog.

“Some of our recent work includes simplified privacy settings and publisher privacy controls that let you select your audience every time you post something on Facebook. We plan a lot more innovations in the months ahead so check back from time to time.”

There will now be “a single control for your content, more powerful controls for your basic information and an easy control to turn off all applications,” Zuckerberg added in the post.

Many Facebook users complained that the social-networking site’s privacy controls were confusing. Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged the public backlash that followed Facebook’s revised privacy model.

“You have sent us lots of feedback,” he wrote. “We’ve listened carefully in order to figure out the best next steps. We recognize that we made a lot of changes, so we really wanted to take the time to understand your feedback and make sure we address your concerns.”

“The new policy doesn’t change the social network’s data-handling practices,” said Edward Palmieri, a privacy and product counsel at Facebook. “Rather, the goal was to apply the Facebook design experience that we bring to everything we do and extend that to our privacy policy.”

In place of an existing document that Facebook admitted was “longer than the U.S. constitution – without the amendments,” the draft policy contains chunks of information organized around more practical headings such as “Your information and how it is used,” “Your information on other websites and applications” and “Your information on Facebook.”

Seriously, at a glance, this seems entirely for the better. Take, for instance, the segment titled “How advertising works.” Not only does it explain that personalized ads can be delivered to you based on your location, age and interests, but it actually shows the tool used by advertisers to set their targeting preference — and even lets you try it out.

“We struggle with really hitting home to users that we do not sell their data to advertisers,” said Mr. Palmieri, so the new policy includes screen shots that show what advertisers see about Facebook users.

Privacy policies are often written by lawyers in notoriously vague language to provide companies legal cover for required notice about user data that’s required by the Federal Trade Commission and other regulatory bodies.

But in a recent report, the FTC noted that it was difficult for the average person to understand privacy policies – and that many people assume that just because a company has one, their privacy is being protected.

Facebook said it has been working on the new privacy policy since a corporate “Hackathon” last October, and consulted with a handful of privacy groups for feedback.

“The new policy is much more of a user guide to how to manage your data,” said Jules Polonetsky, the director of the Future of Privacy Forum, which was consulted by Facebook. “You might actually want to read this thing.”

The new privacy policy is just the latest step by Facebook to address user and regulators’ concern about privacy. Facebook consolidated many of its settings into control panel designed to make it easier for users to adjust when and how their information was shared with other users and third parties.

In February 2009, user concern about changes that the company introduced to its terms of service gave rise to a new system whereby the users of the social network get to vote and comment on its governing document. [Facebook Privacy Policy via Facebook Blog, MSNBC and Wall Street Journal]

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