In the name of privacy, Facebook revamps groups, dashboard, data portability

As more people put more sensitive information on Facebook, it's becoming increasingly important to give users better ways to control who sees that data and how it's used. At a press conference in Palo Alto today, Mark Zuckerberg and company unveiled three big enhancements to the way users interact with their Facebook accounts, with the underlying theme of privacy.

First, users can now download everything they've ever posted on Facebook, including all correspondences between friends, all photos and video they've been tagged in, and their friends list as a single zipped file.

Second, a new dashboard in the privacy settings menu gives users a better look into how third-party applications and connected sites use personal data. With over 1,000,000 Facebook connect services active today, it is not uncommon to log into a site using your Facebook ID once and never use it again. This dashboard lets users know exactly with whom they're sharing.

Third, a completely revamped Facebook Groups for collaborative sharing, chatting, and event planning with smaller, more controlled groups in mind. This is the biggest change of the three, and the one which Facebook executives spent the most time discussing today.

"We've long heard that people would find Facebook more useful if it were easier to connect with smaller groups of their friends instead of always sharing with everyone they know. For some it's their immediate family and for others it's their fantasy football league, but the common concern is always some variant of, 'I'd share this thing, but I don't want to bother 250 people. Or my grandmother. Or my boss," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said today.

The groups that have already been created aren't going anywhere, and the old system of group creation and maintenance will not change for them. However, these kinds of groups can no longer be created.

Some new features of Groups include: group chat, a simultaneous real-time Facebook chat; shared notepad for collaborative document creation and editing within a group; and Mailing list-style notification options which can be subscribed to or blocked depending on what each group member prefers, and a group privacy setting. The group privacy setting includes "Open," which makes both group members and all the group's content public; "Closed," which leaves members public, but all the content private; and "Secret," in which members and content are both private.

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