Commentary

Facebook Caves On Some -- Not All -- Privacy Changes

Faced with complaints by U.S. senators, European officials, privacy organizations, tech journalists and its own members, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said today the company will roll back some of its more controversial recent changes.

Significantly, the company is retreating from a decision to classify a host of information -- including friends' names -- as publicly available. Now, the information that will be visible to everyone is limited to names, profile pictures, gender and networks.

In another big rollback, Facebook will no longer require people to either publicly reveal their "connections" -- including the schools they attended and their employers -- or delete them. Facebook also will allow users to easily opt out of having their information shared with apps.

Additionally, Facebook made it easier to opt out of instant personalization -- its new feature that automatically shares users' names, photos and other data with the outside companies Microsoft Docs, Yelp and Pandora.

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But the social networking site still isn't budging on one of its most controversial changes -- launching instant personalization on an opt-out basis.

Instant personalization currently operates by default, meaning that every user who's logged in and visits Microsoft Docs, Yelp or Pandora will also share their names and profile pictures with those companies. In other words, users who are signed in at Facebook can no longer anonymously visit Yelp unless they have affirmatively opted out of instant personalization.

That in itself seems out of sync with many people's ideas about the nature of Web-surfing. Yet Facebook is so far stubbornly refusing to make instant personalization opt-in.

Until Facebook retreats on that issue, it's not likely to quell everyone's concerns. Consider, when Sen. Chuck Schumer blasted the company, he specifically complained about instant personalization. And when Rhode Island resident Derrick Rose filed a potential lawsuit against Facebook, he alleged that instant personalization violated his expectation of privacy.

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