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What Facebook is changing about your privacy settings

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer
Facebook has said it would offer GDPR-like features to users all around the world. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Facebook has been rolling out new privacy settings to certain users around the world.

Here at Yahoo Finance, for example, many of the staff have been greeted by a new message at the top of their Newsfeeds demonstrating where they can see privacy features.

But these changes aren’t necessarily the groundbreaking controls over your data you might be expecting. Instead, they’re more akin to a “lite” version of the looming European privacy regulation that’s set to take effect May 25, called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

Facebook isn’t offering you new controls, but this may actually be good news, depending on your expectations. That’s because they’ve already been offering much of these, though many of the controls are now simplified or being further simplified and reformatted into a more digestible format.

For example, no one has had to have facial recognition turned on, or certain types of targeted ads if they don’t want to. But there’s been some confusion that saying no to this stuff is new. That’s because many people have not reviewed these privacy settings before, and in Europe, Facebook has never used its facial recognition software for its users, so there was nothing to turn off or on. (Not existing means off.) It exists now, and the default is “off,” according to Facebook.

The news these days, to clarify, is that the education and notification is different, and that defaults are off so you have to opt into data sharing features, both big parts of GDPR. However, Facebook said it would be continuing to improve and simplify some features like the “download my data” feature that lets a user view their archive.

All of these changes serve to bolster goodwill for the company, which has been embroiled in the  the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where data from more than 87 million users was used improperly by a third party.

The company, however, did show its red line this week, when it said it would require European users to accept ad targeting if they want to use the service. Under GDPR, Facebook must clearly notify users of its terms of use and privacy policies, but it still can set the terms. If a European user doesn’t like it, they can part ways with the company’s service, Facebook’s deputy chief privacy officer told reporters. At the end of the day, the company is not stepping back from the fact that it is an ad-driven product that people are not forced to use.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Confidential tip line: FinanceTips[at]oath[.com].

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