Facebook Users Can Ask for Their Profile Data

If you’ve been dying to have your Facebook data in a compressed file, today is your lucky day.

In a move that appears to be designed to appease Facebook’s privacy critics, the Palo Alto, CA-based social site announced Wednesday that its 500 million users can request information tied to their user IDs be sent via an e-mail. The data will include “likes,” wall posts, friends list, as well as shared photos, articles, videos, etc.

To protect against fraudulent requests, users will have to supply a correct user name, password, and e-mail address. If someone makes the request from an unusual IP address or location, they will have to answer questions about friends on the site in order to get the data. In all cases, requestors will have to log back into Facebook a second time before a Zip file – which will be anywhere from 10 to 30 megabytes, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg – is e-mailed.

In a three-part announcement, Zuckerberg juxtaposed the “Download Your Data” offering by comparing it to Facebook Connect and its more controversial younger sibling, Instant Personalization. Websites that implement Connect can access users publicly made Facebook data such as “likes” and friends, but only if their visitors hit an “Allow” button. Furthermore, the social media company’s four Instant Personalization partners (Pandora, Yelp, Docs.com, and Rotten Tomatoes) have been able to access such information automatically unless visitors have disabled the app in their Facebook accounts.

Instant Personalization has been a lightning rod for privacy advocates and lawmakers since it was launched in April. It’s important not only to Facebook that the social site keeps privacy critics reasonably at bay, but also for other online marketers. Tougher consumer privacy laws or rules, if adopted, would make it more difficult for marketers to deliver targeted advertising. Today’s announcement seems to be at least partly tailored to quell some of that criticism.

Interestingly, Zuckerberg revealed that one million websites now use Connect while discussing the “Download Your Data” initiative. He said the new feature compares to how users “can take their information with them” to other websites via Connect, suggesting a similarity if they download the Zip files onto their laptops or desktops.

In a related privacy-related move, Facebook said that starting next week the site will include a dashboard designed to let users better control their data as it pertains to apps. It will show what apps a person has authorized, which data permissions have been granted, and what data has actually been accessed by an app.

David Recordon, Facebook’s senior open programs manager, said the dashboard will also show what friends’ data has been accessed by an app on the user’s “behalf.” He added, “We feel this level of visibility…for an individual, this is a pretty big win.”

Lastly, the company is rolling out a new “Groups” feature that will allow users to create a list of friends who see posts or messages that other Facebook friends do not. “Maybe I want to [communicate with] my friends who like running,” Zuckerberg explained. “But I don’t want to annoy all of my friends about what an awesome jog I had this morning.”

Facebook will not delete the old groups pages – which have been often akin to unofficial fan pages – but will not let additional such versions occur from now on. The CEO said the new groups format would constitute small numbers – suggesting a potential cap of 250 people – and would not be lucrative vehicles for commercial entities. “For brands, we have Pages,” he said.

Users will be able to invite their groups to performances, parties, and other events, said Justin Schaffer, head of new products at Facebook. “These groups work just like mailing lists,” he added.

For advertisers, it’s possible the groups will create more time-spent on the site and therefore more potential engagement. Whether or not brands will be able to join user groups was not revealed during the one-hour press conference.

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