Facebook grapples with privacy concerns

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Facebook, the social networking web site whose user traffic is second only to Rupert Murdoch’s MySpace, on Thursday continued to grapple with a revolt sparked by the introduction of new features that have raised privacy concerns among the site’s 9m users.

The uproar over the features – which allow other users to keep tabs on changes to their friends’ profiles, photographs and other personal information – is the latest example of increasing privacy concerns among social networking sites’ predominantly young adult audience.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, pleaded for calm as some users erected web sites urging a boycott of the site.

“The privacy rules haven’t changed,” he said on the company’s weblog. “None of your information is visible to anyone who couldn’t see it before the changes.”

However, the aggregation of so much information in a form that is so easily accessible has riled some users.

“People that I have spoken with are perturbed by the overwhelming collection of personal information that is displayed about friends, acquaintances, and other FaceBook buddies,” wrote the author of an online petition against the changes.

“We all know who has dumped who, who is doing what, and who doesn’t like something anymore...The Facebook has become a perfect tool for stalkers to gain access to their prey, easily.”

Last year, Friendster, the site that pioneered the social networking craze, courted controversy after it introduced a new feature that allowed users to keep track of who had recently viewed their profile online.

Reports of potential employers scouring sites such as MySpace and Facebook in order to gain insights into the personal lives of job applicants have added to privacy concerns, challenging the ethos of openness that has led millions of users to share personal experiences and create networks of virtual ‘friends’ online.

The backlash has prompted some companies to offer products that give users finer control over who gets to access their weblogs, photographs and other online information.

Six Apart, the software company behind the TypePad and Movable Type blogging tools, is testing a new blogging service called Vox, which allows users to choose whether to display blog posts openly, or to make them available only to friends and family.

Rupert Murdoch’s $580m acquisition of MySpace last year sparked intense interest in Facebook, which caters mainly to the university set. The company was rumoured to have spurned a buyout offer of $750m earlier this year in hopes of a bigger payday.

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