Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Admits Privacy Gaffes

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledges users' privacy concerns.

ByKi Mae Heussner
May 24, 2010, 9:57 AM

May 24, 2010— -- After enduring weeks of criticism over his company's latest privacy changes, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today offered a mea culpa in an op-ed column in the Washington Post. But some industry observers doubt that the tweaks he outlined will be enough to satisfy users' concerns.

Acknowledging the public's response to Facebook's approach to privacy, he wrote, "Sometimes we move too fast -- and after listening to recent concerns, we're responding."

"Simply put, many of you thought our controls were too complex. Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls; but that may not have been what many of you wanted," Zuckerberg wrote. "We just missed the mark."

He said that the company is planning to introduce simplified privacy settings, as well as an easy way to disable all third-party services.

But Adam Ostrow, editor-in-chief of the social media blog (and ABCNews.com partner) Mashable, said that though Zuckerberg's statements may recognize the recent public outcry, they don't directly address the concerns raised by Facebook's most vocal critics.

"I think what he's done here is essentially acknowledge that there's been a lot of discussion recently about Facebook and privacy issues," said Ostrow. "But it really falls short of saying anything significant."

Rather than forcing users to opt out of sharing their personal data and friend lists with third parties, privacy advocates want Facebook not to opt them in in the first place. And that doesn't appear to be the approach the company is taking, although Zuckerberg didn't provide specifics on the privacy changes being planned.

The op-ed appeared after a well-known tech blogger this weekend published an e-mail from Zuckerberg in which he also acknowledged missteps.

"I know we've made a bunch of mistakes, but my hope at the end of this is that the service ends up in a better place and that people understand that our intentions are in the right place and we respond to the feedback from the people we serve," Zuckerberg wrote in an e-mail to Robert Scoble.

In the weeks since Facebook unveiled its latest changes, detractors have focused on the social network's strategy of pushing users toward more openness. One controversial feature instantly shared user data with some websites without the user's permission. Another feature urged users to make public previously private information about personal interests and activities.

Ostrow said that Zuckerberg's column today fails to address these highly debated features and it seems unlikely that Facebook intends to roll them back.

He also said that users want to know what Facebook plans to do with their data, but the company has yet to provide an explanation.

The latest backlash traces back to Facebook's developer conference a few weeks ago, when Zuckerberg announced several changes intended to make the Web more social and personalized by expanding Facebook's presence to other sites.

On thousands of sites, including ABCNews.com, a "social plug-in" now lets users "like" content and see what their Facebook friends have liked, directly from those sites.

On three sites piloting an "instant personalization" feature, a user's profile information and friend list are automatically read by the site and used to shape the user's experience.

Facebook Users, Lawmakers Cry Foul Over Privacy Changes

But over the past few weeks, some of those data-sharing changes have drawn criticism from users, lawmakers and privacy advocates, who argue that Facebook needs to give its more than 400 million members more control over the personal information they share on the site.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y, and three other Democratic senators urged Facebook to reconsider its privacy changes and asked the Federal Trade Commission to create guidelines for Facebook and other social networks to follow.

Several high-profile personalities in the technology community publicly announced that they were deleting or deactivating their Facebook pages in response to the social network's new privacy policy.

Regular Facebook users have also indicated their frustrations with the company's changes on protest pages across the site. For example, a Facebook page called "Petition: Facebook, respect my privacy" has attracted more than 147,000 members.

More tech-savvy Facebook users have created dedicated websites intended to challenge Facebook's approach to privacy.

One site, called Openbook, aggregates all public Facebook posts into one constantly updated stream and lets visitors query the site for anything of interest. The founders said the point of the site is to draw attention to the amount of information about users Facebook makes public.

Another site, QuitFacebookDay, is trying to convince users to protest the company's privacy changes by quitting Facebook en masse on May 31. So far, more than 14,000 users have committed to quitting.

Prior to Zuckerberg's Washington Post column, Facebook vice president of privacy Elliot Schrage took part in a Q&A with readers of the New York Times to address privacy concerns.

"It's clear that despite our efforts, we are not doing a good enough job communicating the changes that we're making. Even worse, our extensive efforts to provide users greater control over what and how they share appear to be too confusing for some of our more than 400 million users. That's not acceptable or sustainable. But it's certainly fixable. You're pointing out things we need to fix," he said. "We will soon ramp up our efforts to provide better guidance to those confused about how to control sharing and maintain privacy."

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