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Facebook amends privacy policies

An outcry from many users greeted Facebook’s proposed changes to its privacy policies.JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images/file

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook pressed ahead Friday with changes to its privacy policies, first proposed in August, that make it clear that users’ postings on the service and other personal data can be used in advertising on the site.

But the company deleted controversial language that had declared that any teenager using the service was presumed to have gotten parental permission for their data to be used in advertising. The company says it already has that permission from other terms of use.

The proposed changes drew an outcry from many users, some privacy groups, and members of Congress, and prompted the Federal Trade Commission to scrutinize the company’s plans.


“Your feedback was clear — we can do better — and it led to a number of clarifying edits,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the final version of the policies, which went into effect immediately.

The edits don’t change what Facebook’s policy is regarding use of teenagers’ or anyone else’s personal information in ads and probably won’t mollify critics. The new terms of use do not affect a separate change that the company announced last month that allows teenagers to post status updates, videos, and images that can be seen by anyone, not just their friends or people who know their friends.

All of the changes fit a broader pattern: Facebook is pushing its users to share more data while also making that information more widely available. And public comments about, say, a popular television show or the Affordable Care Act could suddenly show up on TV as Facebook works with broadcasters to showcase the conversations that are happening on the service.

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with 1.2 billion monthly users, and its privacy practices draw a great deal of attention.

Facebook insisted all along that it was not changing any policies but simply clarifying its existing practices.


One of its most important advertising products, called sponsored stories, involves rebroadcasting user posts praising a company’s product to their friends. So if someone posted “Just had a great seafood feast at Red Lobster” or even just clicked ‘like’ on the chain’s Facebook page, the restaurant company might pay to make sure that endorsement showed up high in the news feeds of that person’s friends.

Facebook said it had changed the language in its terms of use partly in response to a class-action lawsuit against the company, settled in August, that alleged that it had not properly disclosed to users how their comments about products and other personal information would show up in ads.

While Facebook has clarified its disclosures, it has not acted on two other important provisions of the settlement that would give users more control over how their information is used in sponsored stories.

One provision requires the company to give parents the ability to prevent their children’s information from being used in such advertising.

The other would allow all users to see if Facebook had turned any comments they had made on the service into a sponsored story ad and allow them to opt out of future broadcasting of that ad.