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Facebook updates data use policy

Facebook is updating its data use policy in an attempt to give people more clarity on how the company uses information they share.

As part of the changes, Facebook is also signaling that it may start showing people ads on sites other than Facebook, targeting the pitches to interests and hobbies that users express on Facebook.

The move comes a week before Facebook Inc.'s expected initial public offering of stock. Facebook held events with potential investors this week, including one in Silicon Valley on Friday, and it has posted a version of its road show online. The offering could value Facebook at nearly $100 billion -- more than Kraft, Ford and other major brands.

The policy changes are in response to an audit by Irish data-protection authorities last year, Facebook said Friday. The commission had asked Facebook to be more transparent about how it collects people's data and uses it for advertising, as well as how long it keeps such information.

Facebook plans to notify its more than 900 million users of the changes through advertisements around the site and on its mobile apps. Users who want to dig deeper can read a version of the policy that highlights the changes word by word. Erin Egan, Facebook's chief privacy officer, will host an online chat Monday to answer any questions.

Egan said the company wasn't substantially changing its business practices but wants to "err on the side of providing too much information."

Facebook's overseas headquarters are based in Dublin, Ireland, a member of the European Union. This means the company is required to comply with European data privacy laws. Facebook said the changes were also a response to feedback from its users.

As part of the changes to the policy, Facebook has created a section to explain how it uses technologies such as cookies to deliver ads, secure the site and offer various features. Cookies, which are small files containing data or alphanumeric IDs, are commonly used to track people's activities around the Web, for example. The information could then be used to target ads to their hobbies and interests.

Facebook also has given itself more leeway on how long it keeps information it collects. Before, it has typically kept such data for 180 days. Facebook said it will now retain data for "as long as it is necessary to provide services." This could be longer or shorter than 180 days.

For example, if a company creates a "page" for its brand, Facebook said it wouldn't delete the information put there "simply because 180 days had passed."

"Instead, we would delete it when it was no longer needed -- when the page owner deleted it or closed its account."

Some of the changes give a glimpse of what Facebook might do in the future. Though it doesn't currently show people ads outside of or its mobile apps, the updated policy gives it the option to do so. This is something other companies, such as Inc.'s, already do.