Facebook’s new privacy policy aims to explain the data it gathers but doesn’t change what it collects and shares. (File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Facebook revamps privacy policy in heels of scandal

NEW YORK — Facebook’s new privacy policy aims to explain the data it gathers on users more clearly — but doesn’t actually change what it collects and shares.

The company unveiled the revisions Wednesday as it faces one of its worst privacy scandals in history. Although Facebook says the changes aren’t prompted by recent events or tighter privacy rules coming from the EU, it’s an opportune time. CEO Mark Zuckerberg is also set to testify before Congress next week for the first time.

As Facebook evolved from a closed Harvard-only network with no ads to a giant corporation with $40 billion in advertising revenue and huge subsidiaries like Instagram and WhatsApp, its privacy policy has also shifted — over and over.

Almost always, critics say, the changes meant a move away from protecting user privacy toward pushing openness and more sharing. On the other hand, regulatory and user pressure has sometimes led Facebook to pull back on its data collection and use and to explain things in plainer language — in contrast to dense legalese circulated by many other internet companies.

Among Wednesday’s changes: Facebook has added a section explaining that it collects people’s contact information if they choose to “upload, sync or import” this to the service. This may include users’ address books on their phones, as well as their call logs and text histories. The new policy says Facebook may use this data to help “you and others find people you may know.”

The previous policy did not mention call logs or text histories. Several users were surprised to learn recently that Facebook had been collecting information about whom they texted or called and for how long, though not the actual contents of text messages. It seemed to have been done without explicit consent, though Facebook says it only collected such data from Android users who specifically allowed it to do so — for instance, by agreeing to permissions when installing Facebook.

The new policy also makes it clear that WhatsApp and Instagram are part of Facebook and abide by the same privacy policy as their parent. The two were not mentioned in the previous policy. While WhatsApp still doesn’t show advertisements, Instagram long has, and the policy consolidation could be a sign of things to come for WhatsApp as well.

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