Facebook Easing Privacy Restrictions for Teens

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SAN FRANCISCO
(AP) — Facebook is now allowing teenagers to share their posts on the
social network with anyone on the Internet, raising the risks of minors
leaving a digital trail that could lead to trouble.

The change announced Wednesday affects Facebook users who list their ages as 13 to 17.

Until
now, Facebook users falling within that age group had been limited to
sharing information and photos only with their own friends or friends of
those friends.

The new policy will give teens
the choice of switching their settings so their posts can be accessible
to the general public. That option already has been available to
adults, including users who are 18 or 19.

As a
protective measure, Facebook will warn minors opting to be more open
that they are exposing themselves to a broader audience. The caution
will repeat before every post, as long as the settings remain on
“public.”

The initial privacy settings of
teens under 18 will automatically be set so posts are seen only by
friends. That's more restrictive than the previous default setting that
allowed teens to distribute their posts to friends of their friends in
the network.

In a blog post, Facebook said it
decided to revise its privacy rules to make its service more enjoyable
for teens and to provide them with a more powerful megaphone when they
believe they have an important point to make or a cause to support.

“Teens
are among the savviest people using social media, and whether it comes
to civic engagement, activism, or their thoughts on a new movie, they
want to be heard,” Facebook wrote.

The
question remains whether teens understand how sharing their thoughts or
pictures of their activities can come back to haunt them, said Kathryn
Montgomery, an American University professor of communications who has
written a book about how the Internet affects children.

“On
the one hand, you want to encourage kids to participate in the digital
world, but they are not always very wise about how they do it,” she
said. “Teens tend to take more risks and don't always understand the
consequences of their behavior.”

The relaxed
standards also may spur teens to spend more time on Facebook instead of
other services, such as Snapchat, that are becoming more popular
hangouts among younger people. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, though,
says that the company's internal data shows its social network remains a
magnet for teens.

Giving people more reasons
to habitually visit its social network is important to Facebook because a
larger audience helps sell more of the ads that generate most of the
Menlo Park, Calif., company's revenue.

“What
this is really about is maximizing the kind of sharing at the heart of
Facebook's business model,” Montgomery said. She worries that unleashing
teens to share more about themselves to a general audience will enable
advertisers to collect more personal data about minors “who aren't aware
that their movements and interests are under a digital microscope.”

Facebook
hasn't disclosed how many of its nearly 1.2 billon users are teens. The
social network was initially limited to college students when
Zuckerberg started it in 2004, but he opened the service to a broader
audience within a few years.

The teen audience
is large enough to give Facebook periodic headaches. As its social
network has steadily expanded, Facebook has had to combat sexual
predators and bullies who prey upon children.

Facebook
doesn't allow children under 13 to set up accounts on its service but
doesn't have a reliable way to verify users' ages.

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