May 25, 2010
Posted: 02:31 PM ET
Heeding widespread concerns about how much of its users' personal data it shares on the web, Facebook said it will begin implementing simpler privacy settings on Wednesday.
"I can confirm that our new, simpler user controls will begin rolling out tomorrow. I can't say more yet," Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes told CNN in an e-mail Tuesday.
Currently, users of the popular social-networking site must navigate through some 170 privacy options. Some Facebook members have said they're confused by the settings, while others have threatened to delete or deactivate their Facebook accounts until the site gives them more control over their info.
Tuesday's announcement suggests Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is making good on a recent promise.
"There needs to be a simpler way to control your information," he wrote in an op-ed piece published Monday in the Washington Post. "In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services."
The recent backlash against Facebook came after the site, which has more than 450 million members, introduced a new tool last month to spread Facebook users' preferences and data to partner sites around the web.
May 21, 2010
Posted: 01:29 PM ET
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg genuinely cares about your relationship status. Well, maybe not genuinely, but he may look into it if he’s bored.
One of Zuckerberg’s favorite pastimes is determining Facebook users’ relationship patterns, according to David Kilpatrick’s upcoming book, “The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World.”
Are you constantly chatting with your girlfriend’s best friend? Do you spend more time on your crush’s Facebook page than your boyfriend’s?
You don’t have to be honest with us, but don’t bother lying to Zuckerberg.
A handful of tech blogs have published an excerpt from the book that says Zuckerberg uses certain factors to determine whether your relationship is on the outs and who you’ll likely be dating next.
All Facebook, a blog about the social-networking site, posted this passage:
So what's your take on Zuckerberg as Cupid? Is his theory on this credible, or just creepy? If he offered you an insider's prediction on your significant other’s romantic future, would you take it?
Posted: 11:42 AM ET
Pennsylvania's attorney general recently subpoenaed Twitter for the real names of two anonymous bloggers who have been criticizing him. Twitter generally doesn't give out user identities, according to a statement issued to the blog TechCrunch. And the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania now says it will represent the online critics.
"Any subpoena seeking to unmask the identity of anonymous critics raises the specter of political retaliation," Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says in a prepared statement. "It's a prized American right to criticize government officials, and to do so anonymously."
The anonymous Twitter users in question - @CasablancaPA and @bfbarbie - continue to use their feeds to criticize Tom Corbett, the current Pennsylvania AG, who also is running for the governorship in that state as a Republican.
According to the subpoena, as posted by TechCrunch, Corbett wants the Twitter users' names, addresses, contact info, IP addresses. This isn't the first time a politician or celebrity has tried to out anonymous dissenters online. Last year, the New York Supreme Court ordered Blogger.com, which is owned by Google, to release the identity of an anonymous online writer who had been ranting about former cover girl Liskula Cohen.
The identity fight in Pennsylvania also comes as the Web in general is becoming less anonymous. Facebook is leading the charge against anonymity, as it encourages its 400 million users to use their Facebook profiles - with photos, real names and background information - to comment on online news stories, music, events and other web content.
May 20, 2010
Posted: 11:59 AM ET
Thousands of users posted illustrations of Muslim prophet Mohammed to the web Thursday, responding to a controversial Facebook group that prompted Pakistan to block access to the social-networking site.
Everybody Draw Mohammed Day encourages people to flout the belief by devout Muslims that it is wrong to depict religious figures because it could lead to idol worship. The group has more than 81,000 fans on Facebook.
Creators of the group say they got the idea after recent controversies surrounding the belief. A series of cartoons of Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper in 2005 led to riots in countries around the world.
At least two European cartoonists live under police protection after drawing Mohammed and, most recently, Comedy Central edited part of the animated show "South Park" because it showed the prophet.
By mid-morning on Thursday, more than 7,300 images had been uploaded to the Facebook page, most of them drawings of Mohammed.
Some are silly. But a quick scan showed many that are crude, and some seemed to be intentionally offensive.
The creators of the page said that's not what they're after - that their message is about free speech, not attacking Islam.
"Enjoy the rest of the day and draw Mohammed however you may like," said a Thursday morning post. "We will of course encourage you to make a creative and humourous picture, instead of something hateful."
Predictably, the group has created backlash. Another Facebook group, called "AGAINST Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," actually had more members - about 96,000, as of Monday morning.
Recent posts on that page called on members to "keep protesting against those filthy pages" and report the Draw Mohammed page to Facebook as being objectionable.
But a Facebook spokesman said the page does not violate any of the site's terms. A glitch prevented some users from accessing the page briefly Monday morning, but he said that was technical and has been fixed.
"We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others," he said Thursday.
"With now more than 400 million users from around the world, who have varying cultures and ideals, using Facebook as a place to discuss and share things that are important to them, we sometimes find people discussing and posting about topics that others may find controversial, inaccurate, or offensive."
He did, however, suggest Facebook is monitoring the situation closely.
"When these feelings, or any content reported to us becomes an attack on anyone, including Muslim people, it will be removed and further action may be taken against the person responsible," he said.
He said Facebook is disappointed with Pakistan's decision to block the site and is considering legal action.
Pakistan's government issued an order Wednesday blocking Facebook for an indefinite time because the site had not removed the page.
May 19, 2010
Posted: 11:26 AM ET
It's unclear how exactly the changes will be implemented. Or when. In a public radio interview posted Tuesday, Facebook's head of public policy, Tim Sparapani, said the settings will be updated in coming weeks.
"We've heard from our users that we're gotten a little bit complex. I think we're going to work on that. I think we're going to be providing options for people who want simplistic bands of privacy that they can choose from. And I think we'll see that in the next couple of weeks. Because we do listen to our users," he said in the interview (go to about 26:30 to hear the clip).
He added that Facebook has "built a privacy setting for every type of new communication and sharing that we have," and said that "Facebook should be getting credit here for giving tools in the first place."
Many sites don't have any privacy settings, he said.
The bad press led Facebook's rival MySpace this week to announce simplified privacy controls with only three settings. It will be interesting to see if, in what would be an ironic turn, Facebook follows suit.
May 18, 2010
Posted: 03:22 PM ET
As most Facebook users already know, the social networking site has yet again updated its privacy settings. And the “guide to privacy on Facebook” can seem more like an encyclopedia than a guide. Some users have become so confused that they've chosen to leave the site entirely.
But, thanks to a few independent tools floating around in cyberspace, it's gotten a bit easier to navigate the maze of Facebook settings. Here are a few tools and websites that caught our attention:
ReclaimPrivacy, a donation-based project, recently launched a tool that scans your Facebook page’s privacy settings. It alerts users when their privacy settings have defaulted to public.
SaveFace, which is free to install, automatically sets users’ settings - contact information, search settings, friends, tags, connections, personal information and posts - to “friends only.”
TinEye is not specifically for privacy conscious Facebook users. However, the reverse image search engine can be useful when looking to see if an image posted on Facebook has made its way across the Web. Simply upload a photo and let TineEye search the Web to see if the image has been used elsewhere.
Finally, there's OpenBook (warning: potentially offensive language), a site that doesn't exactly help you manage your Facebook privacy settings, but it might scare you into wanting to keep your info private. The site lets you search through public status updates. Some really embarrassing stuff shows up.
Know of any tools we missed? Let us know in the comments.
Posted: 11:27 AM ET
In an e-mail to CNN.com, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes responded to the growing rancor over the site's privacy settings and policies, which underwent some changes in April.
"With more and more people sharing content online, it’s important that Facebook and other sites provide them with clear control over what information they want to share, when they want to share it and with whom," he wrote in the e-mail. "We’re listening to feedback and evaluating the best way to respond to concerns. We understand that maintaining people’s privacy is of paramount importance, not just to them but to the eco-system of the Internet as a whole and we welcome innovative ideas in this space."
Noyes made the comment in reference to rival MySpace's decision this week to make its site more private.
Some people have deleted their Facebook accounts because of concerns over their online privacy. The online social network, which has 400 million members, allows fine-grained controls over privacy settings, but some people complain that the settings are too numerous and complicated to be useful.
And a project called Diaspora has been getting press as the privacy-minded "anti-Facebook." The project, started by four NYU students, so far has raised $180,000 through the crowd-funding site Kickstarter.
Posted: 10:13 AM ET
MySpace is not aging well.
But maybe there's a comeback for MySpace yet. This week, as Facebook continues to weather bad press about its non-private privacy settings, MySpace announced its comeback plan: Privacy settings that make sense.
"We respect our users’ desires to balance sharing and privacy, and never push our users to an uncomfortable privacy position," company co-president Mike Jones said in a blog post on Monday.
In coming weeks, MySpace users will be able to choose from three settings that regulate the privacy of their profiles. They are:
"Friends only," meaning only people who you've agreed to be friends with can see your profile.
"Public," meaning anyone can search Google and find everything about you.
"Public to anyone 18 or older," which is pretty self-explanatory.
Even before MySpace's announcement this week, some tech pundits were calling for Facebook to adopt simplified privacy settings. Farhad Manjoo, Slate's technology columnist, suggested 5-level privacy settings:
"You should be able to go to your privacy settings and see one big dial that lets you choose one of five levels between 'private' and 'public.' This setting would govern your entire profile; the more public you set the dial, the more you'll share with more people," he wrote on May 13. "By default, the dial would be somewhere in the middle, but you'd be able to shift it up or down at any time. You'd still be able to adjust more specific controls—you could set your profile to 'public' but allow only close friends to see pictures of your kid—but few of us would ever need to."
Facebook responded to some of these concerns in an e-mail to CNN.
It seems like three things could come of MySpace's new privacy controls. Facebook's faithful might give the site a second try. MySpace's privacy rethink could become contagious with other sites.
Or, maybe no one will notice.
Cast your vote for the most likely scenario in the comments. Also, does this make MySpace a more enticing social network?
May 17, 2010
Posted: 11:27 AM ET
Frustrated by Facebook's recent privacy changes, a group is urging users to delete their Facebook accounts en masse on May 31.
The campaign comes amid complaints that the social-networking juggernaut is diminishing users' privacy with its "open graph" model that adds Facebook connections on other sites across the internet. A handful of glitches during the rollout of the changes have, in fact, put some personal info at risk, if only briefly.
It's clear that some folks are leaving the popular site.
But the organized effort to get people to abandon their Facebook accounts doesn't appear to have gained much traction so far among the site's 400 million-plus users.
More than 2,700 people had pledged to quit Facebook on the group's website Monday morning. The Quit Facebook Day site asks, "Sick of Facebook's lack of respect for your data?" and calls on users to quit the site all at once on May 31.
And about 1,090 people had "liked" the site's Quit Facebook Day page - which, ironically, is on Facebook - as of Monday morning.
By contrast, more than seven times that many people are fans of former "Top Chef" contestant Kevin Gillespie's beard. A fairly random user-created page called "I Love Facebook" had roughly the same number of members as the "Quit Facebook" page.
On Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle's Business Insider blog poked fun at the effort, albeit when the fledgling site had only a couple hundred people signed up. The post's title? "Uh-Oh, 0.00000068% Of Facebook Users Promise To Quit On May 31."
Facebook doesn't provide the number of people who delete their accounts. But the overall numbers are clearly going the other way. A spokeswoman told CNN.com last week that Facebook had added 10 million active users since late April.
May 12, 2010
Posted: 12:36 PM ET
Sick of the barrage of Facebook privacy scandals?
Don't trust a multi-billion-dollar corporation with your photos and personal information?
Well, there may be an online social network for you yet.
It's called Diaspora, and it's an idea from four New York University students who say in a video pitch that big online companies like Facebook shouldn't be allowed to have access to, and to some degree "own," all of the personal data that flows in and out of their social networks.
The solution sounds a little wonky: Diaspora basically enables computers to share updates, photos and videos directly with each other. It eliminates the middleman, i.e. Facebook, Flickr, Google or Twitter, so no one has access to your data but you and your friends.
To set things up this way, each user has to have server space. In Diaspora-speak, these machines are called "seeds."
But, despite the potential technical confusion, the result, the site's founders say, is a fully private and secure network, without cutting down on the "sharing" aspect of the internet, which is such a trend at the moment.
"Social networks have only really existed for 10 years," one of the Diaspora founders says in a video introduction. "We don’t know what’s going to happen to our data. It’s going to exist into the foreseeable future. We need to take control of it."
"Because once you give it away once it’s no longer yours. You cannot stake claim to it," another chimes in.
Diaspora's founders - who look kind of like they jumped out of "Revenge of the Nerds," and, according to NYTimes.com, consider themselves to be pretty nerdy - posted their idea on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter to get money for the venture. If you're not familiar with Kickstarter, it's a site where people post information about their projects and ask random members of the internet for funding.
So far, about 900 people have contributed a total of nearly $29,000. That's more than the $10,000 the Diaspora founders said they needed to start the site.
ReadWriteWeb says that the way Diaspora works may confuse some general users. But, the blog notes, Diaspora may offer a paid service that would be simpler to use. Positioning itself as the anti-Facebook may help, too:
"If Diaspora is realized, it will be up to technology advocates to position the turn-key service in a way that will make it sound simple and appealing to precisely those sorts of mainstream users if it is to ever succeed. Taking shots at Facebook's privacy issues may be a good course (Take back control with Diaspora!)," the blog writes.
"We would like to see Diaspora come to be, even if it never goes mainstream, because it would finally offer privacy advocates a real alternative to the increasingly data-hungry Facebook."
Check out Project Diaspora's website and let us know what you think. Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook in 2004 out of his Harvard dorm room; it now has 400 million users worldwide. Is it too late for a challenger? Or do the latest privacy concerns leave it vulnerable?
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