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Facebook, Attorneys General Announce New Security Campaign

By guest blogger Rob Bock

Facebook and the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) announced this week the launch of a new consumer education program designed to help teens and their parents more closely manage their visibility and privacy on the Internet.

In addition to a video series and tip sheet available on the Facebook Safety page, the campaign will include state-specific public service announcements with 19 participating attorneys general and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

"Teenagers and adults should know there are tools to help protect their online privacy when they go on Facebook and other digital platforms," Maryland Attorney General and NAAG president Douglas Gansler said in a press release. He announced the campaign at the "Privacy in the Digital Age" Presidential Initiative Summit in National Harbor, Md. on April 15. "We hope this campaign will encourage consumers to closely manage their privacy and these tools and tips will help provide a safer online experience."

The issue of online privacy is a familiar one to Facebook, which in the past has taken criticism from the Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Reports, and former Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerburg, (the sister of founder Mark Zuckerburg) among others, for its history of privacy and security missteps.

Teens are particularly vulnerable to online privacy invasion due to the amount of time they spend online and a tendency of some to lie about their age. More than three-fourths of teens have a cellphone and use social networking sites, and, although Facebook's popularity is dropping among youths, it is still widely used.

According to data from a Pew Research Center report released last year, only 62 percent of teens set their privacy settings to allow only friends to see their postings on social media sites. Nearly 20 percent have partially private settings, and 17 percent have no privacy settings at all.

Leaving social media profiles open to the public can cause a slew of dangers for teens, ranging from attention from child predators, leaks of private photos or information, and cyberbullying. Some teens have even gotten college rejections because of what they have posted publicly on the Internet.

Facebook's new teen security education program is just part of a recent push toward enhancing youth privacy, which also includes adjustments to its Graph Search tool to limit results in Graph Searches of teens.

But some say this just isn't enough.

"We are encouraged to see Facebook work with the attorneys general and take some long overdue steps toward protecting kids' privacy," James Steyer, Founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, wrote in an e-mail. "But this is a half-measure at best: the issue isn't just about what kids can do to protect their own privacy, it's what Facebook is (or isn't) doing to protect their consumers' privacy."

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