Facebook gets serious about privacy with “checkups” for all, change to “Friends only” setting

Facebook privacy

In a major update to its privacy policies, Facebook on Thursday announced a series of measures that will help its more than 1 billion members from “over-sharing” — such as posting personal information to the general public, or telling friends about every single song they hear.

In a blog post, Facebook explained that it will unroll a “Privacy checkup” in coming days that will use simple graphics to explain to users who sees the information they post.

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And, in a major policy pivot, Facebook will change the default settings for new users from “Public” to “Friends only,” a move that will spare new users from having to navigate Facebook’s often-byzantine privacy menus.

Taken together, the changes have big implications for Facebook’s advertising business since it will reduce the overall audience of Facebook posts. The changes also come on the heels of other recent pro-privacy initiatives by Facebook, such as permitting users to log-in anonymously and new restrictions on third party apps’ ability to garner data about users.

All of this suggests that Facebook is finally changing the cavalier attitude it has traditionally taken towards privacy. But why?

On one hand, Facebook may simply be responding to users’ desires for more control over information. At the same time, however, the new policies may be a shrewd way to get out front of regulators in the U.S. and, especially, in Europe, where online privacy is an ongoing issue.

The changes also come at a time when privacy advocates are scrutinizing the implications of Facebook’s acquisition of social media services like Instagram and WhatsApp, which will give Facebook access to new data for hundreds of millions of people.

Facebook’s new policies may also have the effect of forcing other major tech companies like Google and LinkedIn to re-evaluate how they handle privacy settings.

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