Technology

Facebook releases privacy tools to ‘give people control’ over data

Corporation suggests changes are response to Cambridge Analytica scandal, with EU set to toughen data protection rules in May.

Facebook users bigger than Africa's population

The company said in May that duplicate accounts, according to an estimate from last year, may have represented some 6 per cent of its worldwide user base.

Facebook is launching a range of new tools in an effort to “put people in more control over their privacy” in the buildup to new EU regulations that tighten up data protection.

The changes come after a troubling two weeks for the company, which is battling with the fallout of the Cambridge Analytica files. At least one of the new features, a unified privacy dashboard, was previously discussed by Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, back in January.

Facebook is not committing to making it any easier for users to delete their accounts wholesale

“The last week showed how much more work we need to do to enforce our policies, and to help people understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data,” two Facebook executives wrote in a blogpost announcing the changes. “We’ve heard loud and clear that privacy settings and other important tools are too hard to find, and that we must do more to keep people informed.”

Erin Egan, Facebook’s chief privacy officer, and Ashlie Beringer, its deputy general counsel, continued: “Most of these updates have been in the works for some time, but the events of the past several days underscore their importance.” The features will be available to all users, not just those in countries covered by the EU general data protection regulation (GDPR), which comes into effect on 25 May.

On mobile devices, Facebook users will now be able to find all their settings in a single place, rather than spread across “nearly 20 different screens” as they were before. They will also be able to find a separate item, the “privacy shortcuts” menu, which provides a clearing house for options about data protection, ad personalisation and on-platform privacy.

The site is also complying with rules about access to stored personal data with a new “access your information” tool, that allows people to find, download and delete Facebook data.

But Facebook is not committing to making it any easier for users to delete their accounts wholesale. The option to permanently delete an account is currently buried in a help menu, deprioritised in favour of the non-destructive option to “deactivate” a user account, which leaves all the data on Facebook’s servers and accessible to the company’s data-mining tools.

Facebook says that further changes will come in response to user feedback, including updates to the terms of service and data policies. “These updates are about transparency,” Egan and Beringer write, “not about gaining new rights to collect, use, or share data.”

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