SAN FRANCISCO Facebook, the world's No.1 Internet social network, took a step toward opening up parts of its site to outsiders Wednesday by introducing more options for user's privacy settings.
The changes will make it easier for Facebook's more than 350 million users to limit who sees their musings, videos, photographs and other personal information, but will also give them the opportunity to expose a wider swathe of their information to a broader Internet audience.
The move comes as Internet search engines like Google and Microsoft are increasingly interested in incorporating the growing trove of user-generated content from social media websites into their search results, and as Facebook faces competition from rival services like Twitter, in which all information is viewable to the public.
"We certainly want to respond to the requests of people to be able to share information in all sorts of different ways," said Elliot Schrage, Facebook Vice President of Global Communications and Public Policy.
Schrage said Facebook users will be greeted with a message Wednesday presenting them with new options to customize privacy settings and directing them to a new, simplified overview page of all their personal privacy settings.
The changes will not, in any way, alter Facebook's policies governing the kind of user information that is shared with advertisers, he said.
Earlier this year, Canada's privacy commissioner said Facebook lacked certain safeguards to prevent unauthorized access of users' personal information by third-party developers like game and quiz makers. Facebook addressed the concerns in August.
The new privacy features, which Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg mentioned were coming in a blog post last week, will make it easier for a Facebook user to limit certain messages to a subset of their friends, such as family members but not work colleagues.
Users will now also have the ability to broadcast messages beyond the borders of Facebook so they are viewable across the broader Web. Facebook began testing the public message feature with a limited group of users during the summer.
In October, Microsoft announced plans to incorporate Facebook messages flagged for the general public into its search engine results.
Google recently announced plans to incorporate certain Facebook data in its new real time search product, though the data will be limited to the special public profile Facebook pages created by celebrities and companies.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Dan Lalor)