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October 17, 2013

Facebook eases teens' privacy policies

Facebook relaxed its privacy policies for teenagers on its network Wednesday, allowing underage users to share more information with the general public.

Facebook had previously prevented users between ages 13 and 17 from sharing information outside their extended network — their friends or friends of friends. That restriction is now being lifted.

Under the new policy, when teens join the site, they will automatically have stronger privacy protections, and the information they post will be visible only to their friends. But they will also have the flexibility to change those settings and share their posts with a general Internet audience.

In a blog post, Facebook said the changes will give teens more control over what information they share with the public.

But privacy groups said Facebook has failed to address complaints that it hasn't adequately protected its youngest users. Facebook is addressing what teens "choose to share consciously, not the under-the-hood forms of [data] collection that the site enables and [has] increasingly become more sophisticated," said Kathryn Montgomery, a privacy advocate and communications professor at American University.

Facebook did not disclose how many of its more than 1 billion users are teenagers and would fall under the new policy, but the Pew Internet and American Life has estimated that 94 percent of teens who use social networks have Facebook accounts. Under Facebook's policies, underage users agree that their parents have given them permission to use the site, but the site does not require certification.

Facebook said that allowing teens to share more with the general public brings the site's policies in line with competitors, including Twitter. Teens can already use other platforms to publicly weigh in on current events, the company said. But before the change, celebrity teens, for example, had to create separate fan pages to promote their movies or music to a wide audience.

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