Facebook tries to take on Twitter

03 July 2009

PALO ALTO, California: Facebook is hoping many of to its 200 million members will "reset" their privacy preferences, and thus make more of the material hosted on the social network accessible to all web users, a move seen as an attempt to mimic Twitter, the rapidly-growing microblogging service.

The issue of privacy on social networks is becoming an increasingly important one, and not only have some of Facebook's previous attempts to change its policy been met with hostility by its users, but the website is also coming under increased regulatory scrutiny in this area.

Earlier this week, the Palo Alto-based company held a conference call aiming to establish how it could develop its current privacy arrangements, and identify ways of successfully encouraging users to adopt any new settings.

One proposal is to offer a "recommended" privacy option to members that will make information such as their profile picture, location, biography, current employment and educational background available to all internet users.

Furthermore, the comments made be consumers on their Facebook "stream" could also be viewed by anyone using the internet, thus effectively making the service more like Twitter.

Among the other changes initiated by Facebook are to set up a single page where members can change their privacy preferences, a reduction from six pages and 40 different settings at present.

It will also allow users to amend the privacy settings for individual pieces of material, in order to limit what is available to their "friends", other Facebook members and non-members of the site.

In the first instance, these alterations will be applied to 40,000 users in America, before being rolled out across the company's operations.

Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said "we believe that when tools are simple, people are more likely to use them and understand them."

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, argued this sort of "risky strategy" was an example of what "always what gets Facebook into trouble."

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff