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Under attack, Facebook unveils new ways to find privacy shortcuts

Under attack, Facebook unveils new ways to find privacy shortcuts
A woman passes a booth at Facebook's annual F8 developer conference in San Jose in April 2017. (Noah Berger / Associated Press)

Facebook Inc. said Wednesday it now will be easier for users to find and manage privacy control settings and see the information the social media giant has about them — moves that come in the wake of the widening Cambridge Analytica data-misappropriation controversy.

In another sign of the pressure Facebook is under, it plans to delay the unveiling of new home products, including connected speakers with digital-assistant and video-chat capabilities. The devices are undergoing a deeper review to ensure that they make the right trade-offs regarding user data, according to people familiar with the matter.

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The Menlo Park, Calif., company had hoped to preview the devices at its developer conference in May, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal plans.

Facebook said in a blog post that a redesign of the privacy control settings menu for mobile will make it easier for users to see what information can and can’t be shared with apps. After the redesign, those settings will be accessible from just one place; previously, settings were spread out across almost 20 pages, Facebook said.

The company also said it was adding a specific menu for privacy shortcuts. That menu will include options to turn on two-factor authentication, manage ad preferences and determine who can see information on a user’s Facebook profile.

“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,” company executives wrote in the blog post. “Most of these updates have been in the works for some time, but the events of the past several days underscore their importance.”

Facebook also will add a feature called “Access Your Information” so users can see what they’ve posted and reacted to, as well as things they’ve searched for. The feature will allow users to delete items they no longer want on their Facebook page.

The company said that it will be easier for users to download the data they’ve shared with Facebook — including photos, contacts added to their account and posts — and that it would make updates to the company’s terms of service and data policy to better explain what data the platform collects and how it is used.

The announcement of the changes comes about a week and a half after the New York Times and British newspaper the Observer reported that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, had gathered data from about 50 million Facebook users without their permission allegedly to try to sway voter opinions.

The data stemmed from a personality quiz app developed in 2013 by a Cambridge University researcher. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said last week that about 300,000 users installed the app, giving the researcher access to their information, as well as data from “tens of millions” of their friends based on Facebook’s platform settings at the time.

Zuckerberg said he learned two years later, from journalists at the Guardian, that the researcher had shared his data with Cambridge Analytica without users’ consent, a move that violated Facebook’s policies.

Zuckerberg said the company already had changed its platform in 2014 to prevent apps from accessing such large amounts of data. But to quell the growing backlash to the controversy, Facebook has unveiled other changes, such as limitations on data access for app developers and a tool to allow users to see which apps they have authorized.

Zuckerberg also said the company would investigate all apps that had access to large amounts of user data prior to Facebook’s platform change in 2014.

But the social media company has continued to feel the heat from lawmakers, government agencies and users. The Federal Trade Commission has opened an investigation of Facebook, and the company said Tuesday it was in talks with congressional committees that had requested Zuckerberg to testify before Congress about the incident.

A #DeleteFacebook campaign recently garnered support from high-profile individuals, such as singer Cher and SpaceX and Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk.

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Facebook’s shares rose 81 cents, or half a point, to close trading at $153.03 Wednesday.

1:20 p.m.: This article was updated with Facebook delaying introduction of consumer devices, and a closing stock price.

10 a.m.: This article was updated to include more details about the new Facebook privacy settings and more background information about the Cambridge Analytica controversy.

This article was originally published at 7:20 a.m.

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