Facebook to simplify privacy controls amid anger over breach

Facebook also announced that it will end its partnerships with several large data brokers which help advertisers target people on the social network.
Facebook also announced that it will end its partnerships with several large data brokers which help advertisers target people on the social network. PHOTO: REUTERS

Privacy and security settings will be centralised; firm will also end tie-ups with large data brokers

NEW YORK • Facebook will roll out a centralised system for its users to control their privacy and security settings in fewer taps following an outcry over the way it has handled personal data.

The system, which will be introduced to Facebook users globally over the coming weeks, will allow people to change their privacy and security settings from one place rather than having to go to roughly 20 separate sections across the social media platform.

The company also announced that it will end its partnerships with several large data brokers which help advertisers target people on the social network.

The world's largest social media company is under pressure to improve its handling of data after disclosing that information about 50 million Facebook users wrongly ended up in the hands of British political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

The privacy settings will be clustered on a new page from where users can control the personal information the social network keeps on them, such as their political preferences or interests.

They can also download and review a file of data Facebook has collected about them. In addition, Facebook will clarify what types of apps people are currently using and what permissions those apps have to gather their information.

Facebook began developing the centralised system last year but sped it up after revelations on the amount of data Cambridge Analytica obtained reawakened fears over how much information the social network has gathered about people, leading to a #DeleteFacebook movement and other criticism.

"The last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies, and to help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data," Facebook's chief privacy officer Erin Egan and deputy general counsel Ashlie Beringer said in a statement on Wednesday announcing the new system.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal has plunged Facebook into its worst crisis in years, with regulators and lawmakers in the United States and Britain demanding answers on how the social network deals with data privacy.

Mr Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's chief executive, has agreed to appear in front of lawmakers on Capitol Hill next month, people familiar with the decision have said.

On Wednesday, Facebook also said that it was halting its practice of allowing advertisers to target ads using information from third-party data brokers.

The tool has been widely used among certain categories of advertisers - such as carmakers, luxury goods producers and consumer packaged goods companies - which do not sell directly to consumers and have relatively little information about who their customers are, according to Facebook.

"While this is common industry practice, we believe this step, winding down over the next six months, will help improve people's privacy on Facebook," Mr Graham Mudd, a Facebook product marketing director, said in a statement on Wednesday.

How much of a difference these actions may make to Facebook's data privacy practices was unclear. Some privacy advocates noted, for instance, that the company's new centralised privacy and security settings page had been tried in the past.

"The platform made similar promises many times before," said Ms Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina who studies how technology affects society.

She pointed out that in 2010, Mr Zuckerberg said in The Washington Post that Facebook users needed simpler controls over their privacy and had promised then that Facebook would "add privacy controls that are much simpler to use". Yet, eight years later, the same concerns have resurfaced, she said.

NYTIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2018, with the headline 'Facebook to simplify privacy controls amid anger over breach'. Print Edition | Subscribe