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Facebook privacy settings get reworked once again

The social network overhauls its settings, not for the first time, in an attempt to make things easier for people to understand, and phases out the option to block people from searching for your profile.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
4 min read

Get ready -- Facebook is making changes to how users access its privacy settings, again. The social network hopes this latest overhaul will make the now bloated process easier to understand, according to a blog post today from Sam Lessin, a director of product for Facebook.

The changes, which come a day after Facebook implemented its new privacy polices, are mainly cosmetic. Facebook is not changing what settings you can set, except for the option to block searches of your profile within the social network. The network has already begun phasing out this feature and soon it will be removed from everyone's profiles.

Wrote Lessin:

Everyone used to have a setting called "Who can look up my timeline by name," which controlled if someone could be found when other people typed their name into the Facebook search bar. The setting was very limited in scope, and didn't prevent people from finding others in many other ways across the site.

Lessin said Facebook has outgrown the feature. It used to come in handy when the network was made up of college students and they could only find each other's profiles by searching for a name.

Now, people can see profiles linked to friends' Timelines, relationship pages or tagged photos. But, why not just leave the feature in place, even if it serves a limited purpose? It can't do any harm to block people from finding you through at least one avenue.

According to Facebook, the search block feature has become more a crutch than a security tool. "Our concern, quite frankly, is that people think it provides a level of security, but it actually doesn't," Nicky Jackson Colaco, a member of the Facebook Privacy team, said in an interview with CNET.

The idea is that while Facebook is taking away the ability to block searches, it's also shifting the responsibility of keeping users' information private to, well, the users.

This is the biggest overhaul since Facebook changed its settings in August and part of Facebook's efforts to constantly refine its privacy controls.

Despite this effort, or maybe because of it, those who hate needing to learn a new set of privacy tools will no doubt moan and groan about the confusion that comes along with yet another onslaught of change.

Facebook says these new changes are designed to give users more flexibility with their privacy. "No master setting should control that," Colaco said. "It should be meaningful privacy settings that actually protect you and not give you a false sense of security."

The overwhelming array of privacy settings may make some users more uncomfortable than when they had fewer options. Then again, privacy may not be on the forefront of every user's minds, if this week's voting is any indication.

Here are the other changes rolling out today:

• Facebook adds tutorial messages for privacy actions (See image at the top of this post). For example, when a user hides a post from a Timeline, a message will pop up that explains that while the post is hidden on the Timeline, it will still show in in other places, like your friends' news feeds and in searches. Similarly, if you untag yourself from a photo, the prompt would tell you that your photo will still be in the album you were tagged in and the only way to remove the photo completely is ask your friend to take it down. Eventually these "in-product education" notices will also extend to the "View As" feature and others in coming weeks.

• A privacy setting shortcuts menu. This menu is added to the tool bar at the top of page. It lets users pick what privacy settings they want to change base on questions rather than by setting: Who can see my stuff? Who can contact me? How do I stop someone from bothering me?


• Untag multiple photos at once and quickly request the removal of posts from your friends' profiles. As apart of a new format for the Activity Log -- the place where users can review and delete or change and all of their activity -- there 's new tools for deleting unwanted content. In additon to a "Request and Removal" tool, users can go to the "Photos of You" tab and select multiple pictures for untagging or removal.


• App permissions will be more explicit. Previously, when people tried to install an app, the prompt would ask you to allow the app permission to post on your behalf and see your information in one post. You could opt out each individual permissions in one screen by clicking on the little "x" by each one. Now, Facebook has required developers to separate the two permissions -- there is one message for asking for permission to post content and another for allowing access to your data. Facebook wants to make it really clear what apps are asking you for, and asked developers to change the term "Basic info" to "public profile and friend list," in its permission messages. "Basic information" also includes name, profile picture, age range, gender, language, and country.