Bloomberg News

Facebook Alters Settings So New Users Share Only With Friends

May 22, 2014

Facebook Inc. (FB:US) is narrowing who gets to see a new member’s posts, dialing back what gets shared on the social network after facing years of outrage over its privacy policies.

Starting today, the posts of new users who begin sharing on Facebook will only be visible to their friends. By contrast, the social network’s default settings previously made posts public, making it easy for people who didn’t know their way around the service to accidentally share information more widely, Facebook said today in a blog post.

The change reflects how Facebook has been working to adjust the site based on what its 1.28 billion users say they want. As the company strives to retain and grow its membership, it is trying to avoiding clashing with members over privacy issues. Facebook said the shift in settings is based on user feedback and it anticipates people will share more frequently if they are more comfortable with the service.

“If people share more publicly than they want to be sharing, that doesn’t benefit us because it leads to bad experiences over time,” said Mike Nowak, Facebook’s privacy product manager. “We want people’s first impressions of Facebook to be as awesome as possible, and we know it’s worse to accidentally overshare than to accidentally undershare.”

For existing members, the Menlo Park, California-based company is expanding its use of a blue dinosaur mascot for privacy that pops up and asks if people are sure they are sharing with the right audiences. The company also runs thousands of surveys about privacy with its users every day in 27 languages.

Privacy Issues

Facebook has had a long history of privacy snafus. In 2011, the company settled with the Federal Trade Commission and agreed to never make deceptive claims about its privacy procedures and agreed to independent reviews of its practices.

In November, Facebook removed language criticized by consumer-advocacy groups about how teens’ content on the website can be used in ads as the company completed changes to its user privacy policies. The revised user privacy rules went into effect that month.

The latest update follows three weeks after the company altered its tools for using Facebook to log into other apps. An option to log in anonymously lets users try out a new product before sharing their identity and personal information. Another tool, which lets consumers decide line by line which kind of information an application can see, is also designed to encourage users to feel comfortable logging in using their Facebook credentials, Nowak said.

The company continues to face litigation about its privacy practices. On May 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco revived Facebook users’ claims that the social network’s alleged dissemination of information about their online activities defrauded customers and breached its user agreement. Some of the lawsuits’ privacy claims are based on practices that Facebook has since changed, lawyers said at a January hearing.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Frier in San Francisco at sfrier1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Pui-Wing Tam at ptam13@bloomberg.net Reed Stevenson


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