Facebook establishing new privacy controls

PALO ALTO, California: Facebook has announced the introduction of privacy controls that give users of the social-networking site the ability to preserve social distinctions between friends, family and co-workers.

Executives at Facebook said Tuesday here that the changes would allow the site’s more than 67 million users to control what was seen by their friends, and friends of their friends.

The company was founded in 2004 as a social site for students at Harvard University and spread quickly to other colleges and eventually into workplaces. Its popularity stems from how the site conveniently allows users to share details of their lives with selected friends online.

While part of Facebook’s appeal has been the greater degree of privacy controls it offers users compared with other major social-networking sites, the site has also been the target of two major revolts by users in response to new features that many felt exposed previously private information to wider view.

Matt Cohler, vice president for product management at Facebook, said it was seeking to evolve beyond the simple privacy controls originally aimed at relatively homogenous groups of college-age users.

“We have a lot more users, a lot more types of users, a lot more relationships, we have a lot more types of relationships,” Cohler said.

But only 25 percent of current users have bothered to take control of their privacy using Facebook’s personal-information settings, the company said.

The use of Facebook has exploded fivefold over the past year and a half. Two-thirds of its users are outside the United States, compared with about 10 percent 18 months ago, when most members were student age and in the United States.

Facebook members will be able to control access to details about themselves they share on the site at a group-level by creating and managing lists of friends that are granted different levels of access to such information. Users already control what individual friends see on a member’s profile.

The new privacy controls were to be introduced early Wednesday in California, the company said.

The group privacy controls take advantage of “friends lists,” a feature that was introduced in December and helps members organize friends in their network into groups. These private lists allow users to direct messages to selected friends or filter what personal details those groups see. Users can create as many as 100 different “friends lists.”

Late last year, Facebook allowed users to turn off a controversial feature called Beacon that monitors what Web sites they visit. The chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, apologized for not responding sooner to privacy complaints regarding the feature.

Beacon is a way to keep one’s network of friends on Facebook informed of one’s Web surfing habits. Critics argued that this feature transformed Facebook from a members-only site known for privacy protections into a diary of one’s wider Web activities.