Amid users threatening a mass exodus from Facebook, the popular social media site announced Wednesday that privacy settings will be simplified.
"The number one thing we've heard is that there just needs to be a simpler way to control your information," Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post.
Users have complained that the site's privacy settings are too cumbersome and have expressed concerns that Facebook can share user information with third-party sites. Many have called for May 31 to be a day to delete Facebook profiles.
Parry Aftab, executive director of the New York Internet safety group Wired Safety, said the privacy controversy shows how Facebook needs to better communicate with users. The organization is on Facebook's safety advisory board.
"Misinformation and hype is rampant on Facebook," she said, adding that Facebook wasn't providing information to third parties, even though it has the ability to do so. "The second issue they need to recognize is that not everybody who uses Facebook is a technology expert from MIT."
Users can currently control what information can be seen by others, but making a profile completely private requires some 50 clicks, said Hofstra University media studies assistant professor Paul Mihailidis.
He said that while individual users need to take responsibility for content they post, Facebook should be more transparent about what it's doing with user information.
Yesterday's announcement takes Facebook's privacy controls to its simpler days, when it was solely for college students, Aftab said. As the site has grown - with more than 4 million active users according to Facebook- and more features have been added, the site is becoming more than a way for friends to stay in touch.
"The problem is that you have different parts of your life," she said. "You don't share the same information with your boss . . . that you share with your best friends."
The current privacy controls allow users to individually protect each piece of information - from contact numbers to photos. Aftab said the simplified settings, which will be rolled out in the coming weeks, will go back to three setting categories: friends, friends of friends and everybody. Users will be able to select which category can see their profiles.
Aftab said she's concerned that Facebook's default setting for a user's name and status will be public. "Too many people use status updates for private information," she said, such as teens who divulge where they will be at a given time.
Facebook users respond
Larry Smith, 40, Roslyn Harbor
Smith, who works in electronics brokerage, considers himself tech savvy and feels comfortable with Facebook's complicated privacy settings.
"I know how to navigate my way around permissions," he said. "I'm pretty confident that a stranger can't see my profile information."
He said Facebook should make it easier for all users by making the default setting for friends only.
"If you're going to be on the Internet in general, you can't be too private," he said. "I assume that anything I put on Facebook is for the taking."
Nicole Chamblin, 37, Freeport
Chamblin, who runs a productivity consulting business, said she struggles with keeping her personal information on Facebook separate from her business contacts.
"I wish it was easier to streamline," she said. "I have to be careful about making sure I'm adding people to certain lists. I have to make sure I'm locking albums when adding pictures."
She said she posts pictures of her 2-year-old son for family in England and Jamaica, but doesn't allow her business contacts to see the photos.
"I'm careful about what I put on Facebook because once it's on the Internet, it's out there."
Frank Emanuele, 21, Albertson
Emanuele, a senior at St. John's University, deactivated his Facebook account three weeks ago in protest.
"I didn't like what they did with all the privacy settings, making everything public," he said.
He said at first he wanted to see if he could last a week without Facebook. If he can last a month, he plans to delete it permanently.
He said he applauds the effort to make privacy simpler, but believes Facebook intended for the controls to be complicated.
"I'm urging my friends and family to be very conscious of your privacy settings," he said.