Facebook affirms its privacy commitment with national campaign

The project is designed to better educate people on how to share content

Facebook is teaming up with the nation's attorneys general to launch a public awareness campaign aimed at keeping young people safer on the site.

The effort, which includes public service announcements and other informational resources, comes as the social network faces mounting pressure both to better educate teenagers on how to keep certain content private, and to stay relevant to them at the same time.

Facebook, which now boasts more than 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, "has hit mass market appeal, and that appeal means the young, hip crowd needs more of a reason to stay," said Jeremiah Owyang, an analyst with the Altimeter Group.

Also, as the site continues to roll out more advanced features such as its new Graph Search social search tool, and more ways to share, it's becoming harder and harder to figure out how to manage one's privacy settings, Owyang said.

Of course, Facebook still has serious, standalone privacy issues with which it must contend. One recent case involves the alleged rape of a high school sophomore in Saratoga, California, who later committed suicide after photos of the attack were posted on Facebook.

The public awareness campaign, therefore, is tied to all of these issues, Owyang said. The project is based on a partnership with the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), and is designed to provide teenagers and their parents with tools and tips to manage their privacy and visibility both on Facebook and more broadly across the Internet.

Some of its components include an "Ask the Safety Team" video series, in which Facebook's safety team answers some of the most popular questions the site has been asked over the past few years as its team has traveled the country. There is also a tip sheet outlining the top 10 tools for controlling information on Facebook, and state-specific public service announcements with participating attorneys general and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, the company said.

The resources will be made available on Facebook's Safety page. The PSAs will be posted to the site as they're finished in the days to come. At present there are 19 attorneys general signed on to the program.

The program's announcement was made Monday morning by NAAG President and Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, during an NAAG-sponsored conference devoted to digital privacy at Maryland's National Harbor outside of Washington, D.C. "We hope this campaign will encourage consumers to closely manage their privacy and these tools and tips will help provide a safer online experience," he said.

Facebook's Sandberg participated in a roundtable discussion on the topic during the conference on Sunday.

Managing privacy is an ongoing concern for Facebook. Last year, for instance, the company struck a settlement agreement with the Federal Trade Commission to refine how it treats user data and privacy settings, and which also required the company to undergo biannual independent privacy assessments.

But some of the site's recent product rollouts have made it a more topical issue than usual. Facebook has already directly addressed, for instance, some of the privacy questions raised by Graph Search.

Graph Search was unveiled in January as an early stage search feature designed to make it easier to access a wide range of content across the site. The company has already been forced to address questions over whether the tool could be used by adults to uncover sensitive information about minors. In February Facebook vowed that Graph Search does indeed honor teenagers' privacy rights.

Under its terms of service, Facebook requires everyone to be at least 13 years old before they can create an account on the site, though in some jurisdictions the age limit may be higher.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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