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September 13, 2011

Facebook adds ‘smart lists’ to improve privacy

Hires President Barack Obama's special assistant for legislative affairs as director of privacy  

By CBR Staff Writer

Facebook is making significant changes to its social networking service in its effort to offer more privacy to users.

Recently, the company tweaked its settings features to make its privacy settings more visible and user friendly. Now the social networking site has introduced "smart lists" – a feature that automatically groups people on an account into "customisable" lists.

Facebook has also hired a director of privacy to manage privacy complaints that the company receives.

The social networking site has witnessed phenomenal growth over the years as competitors MySpace and Google’s Orkut struggled to survive. Google+ is considered to the first potential rival of Facebook.

The search engine company launched Google+ in late June, a move considered as the company’s most ambitious one in social networking since co-founder Larry Page took over as chief executive in April.

The new platform, which claimed that it offered better privacy features to users, was well received after the launch. Google said that it had to bar users from registering to curb the "insane" demand immediately after the launch. It is believed that Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was one of the earliest users of the site.

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Within two weeks of the launch, the Google+ had over 10 million users according to Paul Allen, the founder of It is believed that Google+ now has over 25 million users, compared with microblogging site Twitter’s over 300 million users, and chief rival Facebook’s over 750 million users.

Initially, Facebook rubbished Google+ saying that the entrant copied its features. However, the company has also borrowed several features from Google+ to address growing privacy concerns.

Facebook’s latest move to incorporate "smart lists" is believed to be similar to Google+’s Circles.

The new service is expected to roll out on Wednesday. Facebook said that "smart lists" automatically sorts friends into lists based on the first four categories: work, school, family and city. The service also prioritises news and is optional.

"This is really something we have been working on for four years," Facebook director of product management Blake Ross told AFP. "We think this is the way people will make lists going forward."

"It is silly for you to spend a Saturday afternoon categorising your friends on Facebook," Ross said. "We want to make it as easy as possible to organise your friends." He added, "Smart lists take all the pain out of organising friends on Facebook." Ross continued, "You can always add to or remove people from a smart list after Facebook makes a recommendation."

The lists are customisable, says Facebook. Company director of product Naomi Gleit who worked on the feature said that an users can create friend groups with as few or as many as one would like.

Gleit added that while listing people as "close friends" will make their updates, photos and other details more prominent, those categorised as "acquaintances" will make them see just big news.

The company also announced that privacy and data security lawyer with the firm of Covington & Burling Erin Egan will join the social network as a director of privacy in mid-October.

Egan will be based in Washington, said Facebook, adding that Louisa Terrell, also based in Washington, will be joining Facebook as director of public policy.

Terrell has been working as a special assistant for legislative affairs to President Barack Obama.

The company has also hired a former member of the European parliament from Germany Erika Mann to head a new Brussels office and serve as spokesperson with EU institutions.

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