Facebook has learned lesson on privacy controls, says EU policy director

Facebook has achieved a good balance between granular and general controls around data privacy, says Richard Allan, the social networking firm's EU director...

Facebook has achieved a good balance between granular and general controls around data privacy, says Richard Allan, the social networking firm's EU director of policy.

"Everyone [in the social networking industry] is trying to get to the magic point where users have full and easy control over their data," he told the Westminster Media Forum seminar in London.

Facebook has not always got it right concerning privacy controls, he said, but the company believes that after feedback from users, it has now "broadly" got the balance right between granular and more general controls.

According to Allan, Facebook is working to tackle the issues of complexity of privacy controls and the ability of users to delete self-created content and have visibility of the information being stored by the social networking service.

"We are putting layers on top of the complex privacy agreement to provide a simpler, pictorial guide on privacy," he said.

In an effort to improve the underlying privacy agreement, Facebook has opened the latest version up to the public for comment.

"The industry as a whole is trying to educate users about privacy, make privacy tools easier to use and understand, while at the same time meeting legal obligations," said Allan.

Despite the popular conception that content cannot be deleted from social networking sites, he said, Facebook provides the tools to do just that.

"However, users must understand that while Facebook can enable members to delete content from the site, it has no control over other sites that may have picked up that content and published it elsewhere," said Allan.

Facebook has provided the necessary tools for members to have control over potentially embarrassing content, but the bigger concern among members, he said, is that their content will always be available to them.

While Facebook will continue to strive to provide whatever controls members want, Allan said exceptional cases can never be allowed to disrupt the mainstream use case of social networking sites, which is to make connections and share content.

"Most of the time we are able to resolve concerns around privacy with the tools we already have in place," he said.

The best way forward, said Allan, is to make sure users of social networking sites have a clear understanding of what the deal is when they make various choices such who is allowed access to their content and if that content can be indexed by Google.

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