Facebook tweaks privacy tools to ease discontent over data leak

Facebook says it'll give users more control of their data in the wake of a huge scandal over data privacy that has hammered its stock.
The icon for the social networking app Facebook on a smart phone screen in Moscow on March 28, 2018.
The icon for the social networking app Facebook on a smart phone screen in Moscow on March 28, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

SAN FRANCISCO (REUTERS) - Facebook Inc has adjusted privacy settings to give users more control over their information in a few taps, it said on Wednesday (March 28), after an outcry over a whistleblower's allegations that members' data was used to sway the 2016 US election.

It put all the settings on one page and made it easier to change and more straightforward to stop apps using data. Until now changing settings had been complex, spread over at least 20 screens, which had frustrated users.

The world's largest social network said in a blog post it had been working on the updates for some time but sped things up to appease users' anger over how the company uses their data and as lawmakers around the globe called for strong regulation.

"Last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies and help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data," Facebook wrote in the blog post on Wednesday.

Facebook's shares were up 1.2 per cent at US$154 (S$202) on Wednesday.

They are still down almost 17 per cent since March 16, when Facebook first acknowledged that user data had been improperly channelled via a third-party app to political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, which was hired by Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

The data leak has raised investor concerns that any failure by big tech companies to protect privacy could deter advertisers - Facebook's lifeblood - and lead to tougher regulation.

 

Analysts said the revamps Facebook rolled out on Wednesday looked more like tweaks than big changes, making data management more transparent rather than changing the way the company does business.

"It doesn't seem that the changes that have been proposed are particularly meaningful," Pivotal Research Group analyst Brian Wieser said.

"There are several problems and one needs to address operationally what Facebook is doing to provide confidence that personal data is protected."

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly apologised for the mistakes the company made and has promised to crack down on abuse of the Facebook platform and restrict developers' access to user information.

The changes Facebook announced on Wednesday let users add more layers of protection, control what they share and delete it if they want to, control the ads they see, and manage who sees their posts and profile information.

There is also a new page - Access Your Information - where users can see the information they've shared and manage it.

"The biggest difference is ease of access in settings, which fulfills Mark Zuckerberg's promise to make the privacy process and permissions more transparent to users," Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said.

It was uncertain whether the changes will satisfy lawmakers.

They were announced ahead of a stringent European Union data law which comes into force in May. It requires companies to give people a "right to portability" - to take their data with them - and imposes fines of up to 4 per cent of global revenue for companies breaking the law.

Lawmakers in the United States are still clamoring for Zuckerberg himself to explain how users' data ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica.

He plans to testify before Congress, a source briefed on the matter said on Tuesday. Facebook has said it has received invitations to testify and that it is talking to legislators.

Zuckerberg and the CEOs of Alphabet Inc and Twitter Inc have been invited to testify at an April 10 hearing on data privacy. The US House Energy and Commerce Committee and US Senate Commerce Committee have also asked Zuckerberg to appear at a hearing.

The US Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation into Facebook and attorneys representing 37 states are also pressing Zuckerberg to explain what happened.