Social networking software

Has Facebook Finally Figured Out Privacy?

Download your data

You will now be able to download almost all of your Facebook data as a ZIP file with just a few clicks. There are many potential uses for this feature. If you want to leave Facebook you can take your Wall posts and other data with you, or maybe you just want to save a copy of all your Facebook photos onto your desktop.

Once the ZIP file is downloaded just double-click to decompress the file, and you'll have a structured HTML folder you can use to view your content in your Web browser. I haven't tried it out yet, so I am not sure how well the file will work. But if it's a basic HTML folder, it should be a fairly straightforward process to navigate through the folder and subfolders to pull out different data types such as photos, videos and notes.

The one thing you won't be able to take with you is the contact information for your friends such as e-mails and phone numbers, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. That may be disappointing to some, but it's hard to fault Facebook for erring on the side of too much privacy rather than too little.

Apps Dashboard

Want to know how often Zynga's Farmville or Yelp is asking for your Facebook data? Facebook's new apps dashboard will let you see what all those apps are up to, including how often they are accessing your profile and which pieces of information they can access. You will also be able to revoke the application and limit an app's ability to contact you right from the new dashboard. The new feature will be available under Account>Privacy Settings and then click "Edit your settings" under Applications and Websites at the bottom of the Facebook privacy page.

Missing from the new dashboard is the ability to revoke access to specific pieces of data an application wants to use. Let's face it, a Facebook game may want to access my Facebook videos or notes, but does it need that information to help me become a mob boss or super farmer? Of course not.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation likes the new control apps dashboard, but says Facebook should allow you to see how often applications that your friends have authorized are accessing your data. Third-party applications that your Facebook friends add to their profiles also have access to your Facebook data. To control the information your friends can share about you click on Account>Privacy Settings then click on "Edit your settings" under Applications and Websites. On the next page, click on the "Edit settings" button in the section titled "Info accessible through your friends."

Facebook's new features are a step in the right direction in terms of privacy, but it remains to be seen whether Facebook will continue to respect user privacy the next time it introduces new features. But if the social networking giant keeps its focus on allowing users to control how their data is shared and export their data whenever they like, then Facebook just might regain some of that lost user trust.

Facebook's new features are rolling out now, but it may take a few days before you see them in your account.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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