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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Facebook to Update Privacy Policy, but Adjusting Settings Is No Easier

Facebook announced Thursday that it planned to enact changes to its privacy policies on Sept. 5.

But the social network’s famously difficult privacy controls will not become any easier to navigate.

Mostly, the new data use policy and statement of rights and responsibilities lay out more clearly the things that Facebook already does with your personal information, Ed Palmieri, the company’s associate general counsel for privacy, said in an interview. “The updates that we are showing in the red lines are our way to better explain the products that exist today,” he said.

In some ways, the company is making it more clear that it uses a wide variety of personal data about its 1.2 billion users to deliver advertising, including things they share and do, what they like, how they interact with ads and applications, and even demographic data inferred from everything else.

Facebook also said that it might use its customers’ profile photos to help their friends tag them in photos. Those photos are already public, but Facebook does not currently use them to help recognize faces when photos are uploaded to the service. “This will make the product better for people,” Mr. Palmieri said. “You can still opt out of it.”

But the company is also deliberately deleting information about specific privacy controls. Instead, Mr. Palmieri said, Facebook decided it was better to send users to various other pages, such as one on advertising, to learn more about privacy issues and how to adjust the controls.

For example, the data use policy will no longer offer a direct path to the control for opting out of your name and activities on the site being used as endorsements on ads sent to your friends.

Facebook is also doing nothing to simplify its maze of privacy settings.The company doesn’t offer clear links or explanations of the settings from its own “Facebook and Privacy” page, and its Graph Search feature isn’t especially helpful for the task, either.

Privacy controls are still buried in at least six different menus. To plunge down the rabbit hole, click on the little lock icon next to your name in the top-left column of your news feed page. You will find privacy settings in the tabs for Privacy, Timeline and Tagging, Blocking, Followers, Apps and Ads.

Mr. Palmieri said the company added one section to its policies in response to its $20 million settlement on Monday of a 2011 lawsuit asserting that the company used its customers’ personal information in advertising without compensation or allowing them to opt out.

The old policy explicitly stated, “You can use your privacy settings to limit how your name and profile picture may be associated with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us.”

Facebook’s new language starts with the opposite position. “You give us permission to use your name, and profile picture, content, and information in connection with commercial, sponsored, or related content (such as a brand you like) served or enhanced by us,” the company said. “If you have selected a specific audience for your content or information, we will respect your choice when we use it.”

Mr. Palmieri said the two versions amount to the same thing.

It brings to mind Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.” As he told young Alice, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean â€" neither more nor less.”