Facebook Introduces "Download Your Information" Button, Application Dashboard, Friend Groups

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After taking a beating in the press earlier this year for its less-than-user-friendly privacy settings, Facebook today announced that it is introducing a "Download Your Information" button, which will let users see everything from their wall and messaging archives to photos.

The feature, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced at a press event at the company's Palo Alto headquarters, takes a page from Google's playbook, whose dashboard lets users see all of the information about them Google has collected. (As we mention in a recent story about privacy, of course, this says nothing about how Facebook or Google is using such information.) Still, the "Download Your Information" tool achieves some of the transparency Facebook had been criticized for lacking.

While we're on the subject of privacy (and, to be blunt, control), Facebook also introduced an applications dashboard, a centralized place where users can see which applications they've allowed and how and when they're accessing information. Given that other platforms we rely on heavily (ahem, Android) don't readily make that information available, we have to give Facebook props there.

Finally, Facebook announced a new feature called Groups, which lets users e-mail and chat with multiple people at once. Distinct from Friend Lists, a feature Zuckberg said only five percent of people use, Groups involve more crowdsourcing: anyone can create a group, and once they've added friends all involved have the power to add mutual friends. This feature will apply to mobile apps, too.

Zuckerberg added that having users add friends to Groups, as they would tag each other in photos, is a more effective and less risky solution than attempting to use algorithms to create Groups automatically. (Anyone remember how well algorithms worked when Google launched Buzz? A social network automatically friending 40 contacts was off-putting.)

So in the end, Facebook didn't announce the redesign some people were expecting, but instead allowed more user control. Sounds good to us.

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