Has Facebook got its privacy settings right this time?

Privacy and security have always been the arch-nemesis of the internet, with websites struggling to avoid the perils that come with bugs and viruses. Last week, Facebook unveiled “simpler and more powerful controls for sharing information”. But has it gone far enough?

According to the site, “the new presets help us understand the overall privacy level you’re comfortable with for the things you share. As we roll out new products, we want to apply the right setting for you at the outset – eliminating the need for you to check your setting each time a new feature is introduced.”

There are positive elements here. It means that users will be in control of their profile and data from they very beginning of their Facebook experience and have every confidence that their profile will remain secure.

Leslie Harris, president of the Center (sic) for Democracy and Technology. says of the move: “While more work still needs to be done, these changes are the building blocks to giving people what they want and deserve.”

The controls have also helped to ease concerns about online ads. One of Facebook’s pledges reads: “There’s a rumour that the more openly you share your information the more money we make, but it’s just wrong. Advertisers may target ads to people according to certain demographics, but they receive only anonymous data reports. We don’t share your personal information with our advertisers.”

That follows the backlash of 2007 when more than 50,000 Facebook users signed a petition calling on the company to alter or abandon its Beacon advertising technology. After that, Facebook was forced to provide $9.5m (£6.5m) to establish an independent nonprofit foundation that will identify and fund projects and initiatives that promote the cause of online privacy, safety, and security.

It is hoped that the new pledges will help users engage more with advertisers and really help bring brand experiences to life online, restoring any lost confidence from the past. Make your voice heard in our poll.

However, there is still work to do, before all concerns are eradicated. Only today, there are reports that hundreds of thousands of Facebook users are falling victim to so-called “clickjacking” attacks through links to subjects such as “World Cup 2010 in HD” or “Justin Bieber’s phone number”.

And the safety of the website continues to dominate attention. In April the site launched what it called “the UK’s largest online safety campaign” providing a reporting system enabling users to report unwanted or suspicious contact directly to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP), a £5m investment in education and awareness, a 24 hour police hotline and a request for the government to work with site on better ways to monitor registered sex offenders. But it stopped short of providing an easy to find button, which many officials had called for.

It seems that where Facebook has made progress, there is still plenty to do, and with over 350 million users, the pressure to respond to these needs rests firmly on its shoulders.

Speaking of Facebook, Marketing Week has decided to set up a group and page on the site. Join in our discussions and thoughts on the site!

Separately, I’m also on Facebook, so if you want to hear the very latest in all things digital first, then add me.

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