Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made some big announcements Wednesday from the company's headquarters in Palo Alto about changes to how users control and organize their information on the service.
Zuckerberg has been criticized in the past for not caring about privacy, making statements that worry some. He once told TechCrunch that privacy was no longer the social norm.
But the 26-year-old CEO has just done an about face. He told a room full of journalists, "It is a core part of our belief that people own and have control of all the information they upload."
Then Zuckerberg announced three new features for his social network. (I have to confess that all of them make this reporter and Facebook user happy.)
1. Profile downloads: You can now download your entire profile to the hard drive of your computer. That includes photos, comments, wall posts. Alas, it doesn't include your contact list.
2. Groups: You will now be able to make discreet groups among your friends. This is different from the past system that required you to make a group for every upload of photos. You will be able to create these groups and only people in them can add another member. Zuckerberg says it will now be easy to share family vacation photos with ONLY your family. Or, if you want to have a conversation with your co-workers about a project, every single person on your friend list doesn't have to see it.
3. Dashboard: This is going to give people more control over how much information any application for social gaming can access. You open up the dashboard and, if a particular game has been getting access to your contact list, the dashboard will let you disable that feature.
After the press conference Forrester Research analyst Ray Augie told me that he thought the company had just made great strides in answering privacy critics.
"There's always going to be some level of criticism," he said. "But ... this is a really smart step for Facebook and I think all three things they announced here today helps move the ball forward in terms of greater control and greater transparency."
However, Augie wasn't sure most people would actually use Dashboard. "Now anybody on Facebook can know what they're sharing if they care to." Then, he added, "the question is if they care to."
That remains to be seen since many people often find privacy controls confusing or simply don't really care what information a game company gets from their profile.
Kurt Opsahl an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation did not think that the Dashboard controls went far enough. "Another aspect of applications is that your friends can authorize your information to go to applications," he points out.
Opsahl would like to see people have power over what applications their friends authorize to get access to them.
It's a good point.
In an e-mail, Facebook spokesperson Rebecca Hahn said, "Like all of our products, we'll continue to iterate in the future."
Translation: They will update if it seems like people want it.