Facebook allows users to download their info
Facebook is attempting to answer critics who say it is maintaining a "walled garden" by adding a feature that lets users download all of their information from the social-networking website, to do with as they please.
The company introduced the feature on Wednesday, saying it was one of the most requested capabilities by users.
"One aspect of controlling what you share is the ability to have a copy of your information no matter whether you've shared it, whether that is on Facebook or any other service on the web," the company said in a statement.
"[Facebook's] Platform has been a powerful way for you to remain in control over sharing your information and to have social experiences all over the web. Download your information will build on this and allow people to download a copy of their information, giving people more control over their ... experience."
Users and competitors such as Google have criticized the social-networking website for keeping its members' information largely inaccessible to the rest of the web. Facebook makes a good portion of its revenue by targeting ads to users based on information found in their profiles.
Allowing users to download their profiles, including photos, wall posts, status updates and messages, could clear the way for them to upload the information to a competing service. Third parties such as Google, however, will still not have access to profiles unless users make them available.
The company also announced it was introducing a more granular Groups feature, as well a new dashboard for privacy and application settings. The revised Groups feature will allow users to create smaller clusters of friends by invitation from their overall list, and share information with only them. The update will also feature Group chat, allowing all members to message each other at once.
"Rather than asking all of you to classify how you know all of your friends, or programming machines to guess which sets of people are likely cohorts, we're offering something that's as simple as inviting your best friends over for dinner," wrote chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on the Facebook blog. "The net effect is your whole experience is organized around spaces of the people you care most about."
The updated dashboard is intended to provide users with a simplified view of permissions granted to various applications and websites. Users can also see which applications last accessed their data, and when. They can also modify the level of access these applications have, or eliminate them entirely.
Sidneyeve Matrix, an assistant professor in media and film at Queen's University, said the changes are bound to further complicate Facebook's already confusing privacy settings. The downloading of information, while a welcome move, is particularly likely to cause users grief, she said.
"If it includes information that's collaborative, such as wall posts by other people, then that's a game changer," she said. "You could sit there all day and tinker and think you've got [Facebook's privacy settings], but you don't."
Zuckerberg said the features will start rolling out on Wednesday. Large-scale roll-outs of new online services typically take a few days to reach all users.