SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook wants to give a privacy checkup to its more than 1 billion users around the world.
The giant social network is rolling out a tool that will walk users through their privacy settings on Facebook to make sure they know with whom they are sharing the intimate details of their lives.
Facebook users will start seeing the option to run a privacy checkup pop up on their computers over the next week or two, said Paddy Underwood, a Facebook privacy product manager. The checkup is not yet available on mobile devices.
Facebook announced the privacy tool in May, part of an ongoing effort to reassure people that they can control what they share and with whom on Facebook.
"Nobody likes having their stuff visible to more people than they think," Underwood said.
That's what happened for years on Facebook.
Facebook pushed users to share more information publicly, sometimes unwittingly, drawing criticism from consumers and privacy watchdogs.
Federal regulators cracked down in 2011, accusing the company of misleading consumers about how widely their data was being shared.
The Federal Trade Commission said changes Facebook made to privacy settings in December 2009 made parts of users' profiles such as name, photo, gender and list of friends public by default, threatening the "health and safety" of users.
Facebook agreed to a 20-year privacy settlement.
In recent months, Facebook has begun taking privacy more seriously. It has made new features such as location sharing optional and has not turned them on by default.
As anonymous messaging services gain popularity, Facebook has begun to realize that future growth could hinge on increasingly privacy conscious consumers feeling comfortable with sharing personal information on the service.
"Private communication has always been an important part of the picture, and I think it's increasingly important," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerbergtoldthe New York Times in May. "Anything we can do that makes people feel more comfortable is really good."
The stakes are high. Expectations for growth on Wall Street have risen sharply along with Facebook's stock price.
In July, Facebook reported that its average ad prices had increased 123% in the most recent quarter from a year ago. Ad revenue rose 67% to $2.68 billion.
Behind that success: Facebook has developed sophisticated means of collecting vast amounts of data from users and using that data to target ads.
That data collection is largely invisible to consumers and that, says privacy watchdog Jeffrey Chester, is the problem.
"Facebook is misleading the public to believe that its privacy checkup can really diagnose — let alone fix — its massive data gathering done daily on all its users," he said. "But Facebook works closely with its biggest advertisers and partners to make sure its users provide their data, including their location.
"Until Facebook enables individuals to control how businesses actually gather their information, this tool can be hazardous to your privacy health. Facebook wants the public and regulators to believe that they are protecting consumer privacy. But the opposite is true."
Underwood says the privacy "checkup" is optional.
It has three steps and takes a minute or two.
First, it reviews privacy settings for status updates. Second, it reviews the apps that have access to your Facebook data. And third, it reviews the privacy settings for personal information in your profile, such as hometown, college, phone number and birth date.
Facebook tested the privacy tool over the last few weeks with a small group of Facebook users and says it got positive feedback.
Slightly more than three-quarters of the participants said they found it helpful and three quarters finished all three steps.
Some people tightened privacy but others chose to share more about themselves publicly, Underwood said.
"We saw people changing their privacy settings in both directions," he said.