After Complaints, Facebook Convenes Privacy Meeting

Facebook to hold internal privacy meeting after complaints, tech blog reports.

ByABC News
May 13, 2010, 10:09 AM

May 13, 2010— -- Facing complaints from users, federal lawmakers and privacy advocates, Facebook has called a general meeting for employees today at 4 p.m. PT to discuss the social network's privacy strategy, according to the social media blog

Since announcing a round of new features and changes to its privacy policy in mid-April, Facebook has defended itself against mounting criticism, saying that its changes are meant to make the Web more social and give users more control.

But some believe that the meeting today signals a possible change in the company's approach to privacy.

While it's unknown what's on the meeting agenda, Nick O'Neill, founder and editor of, said he thinks the social network will need to announce a change to its privacy policy to regain users' trust and quiet the media.

"I would imagine them to make at least some sort of change," he said. "There's just so much controversy surrounding it. They could one make one small step back and change the Instant Personalization [service] and a large percentage of the press would be satisfied with that, I think."

One of its more contentious features, Instant Personalization lets Facebook partner sites automatically access a user's profile information and friend list. Much debate has centered on Facebook's decision to opt all users into the program without their permission.

O'Neill said one of the easiest changes for Facebook to make is to pull back on the entire feature or roll it back so that it's "opt-in," as many privacy advocates have urged.

In a statement, a Facebook spokesman said, "We have an open culture and it should come as no surprise that we're providing a forum for employees to ask questions on a topic that has received a lot of outside interest."

As growing numbers of frustrated users join protest groups on Facebook, some of them say they hope this meeting means the company is actually listening.

"There has been such a strong backlash, and I think the fact that they are holding the meeting at all is a good sign," Charlotte Crockett, a 29-year-old Facebook user from the Netherlands, told in an e-mail. "It appears they are concerned about the reaction."

Along with more than 94,000 people, she joined a group called "Facebook, Respect My Privacy!" which was created by a organizer.

"I think it is very wrong for Facebook to share any kind of data with third parties without users' express consent -- previously, applications were also given access, but you had to click 'allow' for that to happen," she said about Facebook's "Instant Personalization" feature, adding that if she didn't follow tech blogs she probably wouldn't have been aware of the feature or how to opt out.

Even though she thinks she has a fairly good handle on the privacy settings, she said she finds them confusing.

"I'm concerned for people who aren't aware of how much they are sharing. Even quite a few of my friends my own age know very little about it, let alone, for instance, my parents!" she said. "You can imagine situations where that might even put users or their contacts (if they don't realize their full friend list is public for instance) in danger. I'm thinking of political activists in countries with repressive regimes, gay people in countries where homosexuality is illegal, etc."

She said she hopes that Facebook makes the default settings for most features private, switches the Instant Personalization service to opt-in, gives users more choice about how to share their interests, simplifies the privacy settings and commits to never publicizing information that a user has established as private.