Facebook changes privacy policy for teens

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2013 12:00 am

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook Inc. is lifting restrictions on teens to let them share more information publicly in a bid to regain the popularity it has lost to Twitter, Snapchat and other social networks.

Before the change, teens ages 13 to 17 could share information only with friends or friends of friends. Now Facebook is giving them more control over what information they share publicly.

“Teens,” the company said in a blog post, “want to be heard.”

With the new policy, teens’ privacy settings will automatically share information only with friends — but they will have the ability to change those settings.

Privacy watchdogs immediately cried foul. Facebook says its updated teen privacy policy now mirrors its competitors’. The changes were to begin rolling out Wednesday.

Some 94 percent of teens are said to have Facebook accounts. But Facebook has been overshadowed in recent years even by its own photo-sharing service Instagram, along with other social networks that are seen as being hipper than Facebook and where their parents don’t hang out.

Teens who choose to change their settings will be asked twice if they are sure they want to share information that broadly, Facebook said.

Privacy watchdogs warned Wednesday that Facebook still isn’t doing enough to protect young users. Privacy groups recently sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission asking it to examine the data Facebook collects on teens.

Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, called on the FTC to step in and protect teen privacy on Facebook.

“Facebook is being dishonest with parents and teens. To parents and teens, Facebook is claiming they are giving them more options to protect their privacy. But in reality, they are making a teen’s information more accessible, now that they have the option to post publicly,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy. “Today’s announcement actually removes a safeguard that teens currently have, that they only can expose (share) their posts with friends of friends. Under Facebook’s new plan, a teen can share their information with anyone on Facebook or the Internet.”

The move comes as Facebook tries to encourage its 1.2 billion users to share more information publicly. The company is locked in a battle with Twitter to convince advertisers that it is a better site for reaching consumers interested in events like sports, television shows and the news.

The Facebook move also comes as the Federal Trade Commission conducts an inquiry into other proposed changes to the company’s privacy policies. Those policies would give Facebook automatic permission to take a user’s post, including a post made by a teenager, and turn it into an advertisement broadcast to anyone who could have seen the original post.

Privacy advocates have complained to the FTC that, with those proposals, Facebook was violating a 2011 order that required the company to obtain explicit permission from its customers before using their data in advertising.

This report includes material from the New York Times.

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