Facebook plans to roll out new privacy features on Wednesday that will give users more control over who sees the data stored on their profile pages.
The new privacy controls will allow users to choose which of their friends can see information such as their photo albums, mobile phone number or e-mail address. Facebook users will also be able to share information about themselves with a wider group of people, thanks to a new “friends-of-friends” feature that is also expected to be available on Wednesday.
The Facebook privacy page has more information, including that you can now use “friend lists” to control who gets to see what — a pain to set up and keep up-to-date, but potentially useful
Facebook’s Beacon fiasco from last fall provides a backdrop:
Privacy experts blasted the program for being confusing, and computer experts soon revealed that Beacon was tracking Web behavior and secretly sending data back to Facebook without notifying users. Facebook was forced to retool the product amid a firestorm of bad publicity.
The new privacy features do not have any relationship to Beacon, but at a press event held Tuesday, the company’s vice president of product management gave a frank assessment of the Beacon roll-out.
“With Beacon we just screwed it up,” said Matt Cohler. “It was just poor execution on our part.”
The chat feature is one that hardcore Facebook users have been hoping to see for a while. There’s already a cool little third-party service for Facebook called Social.im which does things a little differently. It lets you chat with your Facebook contacts outside of the browser, but it involves a small download. The download is a stand-alone client on Windows or an add-on for iChat and Adium on the Mac. The Mac version is more seamless — your Facebook chats look just like regular iChat sessions.
No discussion yet of privacy considerations related to Facebook’s chat. Presumably anything you type there, including links, is all fodder for Facebook’s keyword-based and behavioral targeting of advertising. Louise Story’s recent New York Times story To Aim Ads, Web Is Keeping Closer Eye on You highlights that Facebook collects the fifth-most information about its users of any corporation; looks like they’re going to be increasing that.