Facebook unveiled new privacy features Wednesday that are aimed at making it simpler for users to limit who can see their posts and photos, while taking away one setting that allowed users to make it more difficult for strangers to find them.
The changes come as Facebook and other Internet giants face close scrutiny from privacy advocates and regulators who are concerned about how personal information is shared across the Web. Facebook representatives said the new features give users more control and will clarify what's been criticized as a complicated and confusing array of privacy settings on the social network.
But some privacy advocates objected to Facebook's elimination of a control that lets people hide their Facebook Timelines -- which include a profile picture and other photos and posts that users have shared publicly -- from strangers who type an individual's name into Facebook's search engine. One critic suggested the move could violate Facebook's legal settlement with Federal Trade Commission regulators who accused Facebook of numerous privacy offenses in 2011.
"It's kind of a good news, bad news announcement for users," said Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who said he'll raise his objection with the FTC. "Simplifying the privacy policies and making them more accessible is a step in the right direction. Making profiles publicly searchable seems like a step in the wrong direction."
A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment on the Timeline criticism. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously said he sees opportunities to build on Facebook's business by expanding search capabilities on the network.
Facebook said Wednesday that the changes are intended to make people feel more comfortable using the network by providing clear information about what happens to their photos, posts and other information.
"We believe that the better you understand who can see the things you share, the better your experience on Facebook can be," product director Samuel Lessin wrote in a blog post.
Among other things, Facebook is introducing shortcuts to key privacy settings that let people restrict who sees their photos and posts. It's also providing more explicit information about the various places where an individual's photos and posts may appear on the social network. And it's requiring app developers to be more explicit in requesting permission to share information.
Lessin said Facebook is eliminating the Timeline control because only "a small percentage" of Facebook's 1 billion members have used it and because "the setting didn't prevent people from finding others in many other ways across the site."
Facebook lets users restrict who can see certain photos and posts on their Timelines, but some items may appear elsewhere on the network. A user who doesn't like her appearance in a friend's photo, for example, can keep it off her own Timeline but can't remove it from the friend's page.
Contact Brandon Bailey at 408-920-5022; follow him at Twitter.com/BrandonBailey.