Question for Facebook: Better to Ask First, or Apologize Later?


An old management adage says ‘tis better to apologize later, than ask for permission first.’

This is typically intended to encourage entrepreneurial risk-taking, or ambitious career moves, (e.g ‘Do I ask to call on that customer? Or just do it and apologize later if necessary to my higher ups/board?’) In other words, this ‘rule’ is one we tap when we’re concerned about heading-off institutional inertia, and road blocks to our own — or our company’s — progress.

Now, it’s easy to see how adding a creative app or feature to your site might be something you want to try first, and only apologize for later, if it doesn’t work.

But consider Facebook’s latest mea culpa. Plenty of users grew upset over the information sharing features of Facebook’s Beacon ad program. Today founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally responded:

“We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release and I apologize for it.”

Continuing, Zuckerberg admits he and his staff flatly missed the mark with Beacon.

“Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control over what and how they share information. This is what makes Facebook a good utility … People need to be able to explicitly choose what they share, and they need to be able to turn Beacon off completely if they don’t want to use it.”

So weeks on, Beacon is now “opt-in” and has a privacy control to omit Beacon completely. Om thinks this is too little, too late and writing: “This is the second time they have tried to test the limits of their community and gotten some flack for it. It would be better if they asked — they are a social community — and being social means listening and talking with each other first, not [apologized] after the fact.”

So this forms our….

Question of the Day:

Does the “better-to-act-than-ask-for-permission” adage hold upwhen it comes to a founder’s responsibility for meeting the needs of his/her customers — especially when those responsibilities include customer service and concerns about privacy?


Jonathan Trenn

To the concept that Facebook is a social community…a big “Yeah, but”.

Facebook is first and foremost a business. The decision makers were operating from that stand point. I agree with the idealist view of social community, but in the real world, business is business.

And their business got rightly punished for it.


Mark has demonstrated a history of “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” actions. At Harvard with, he willfully breached computer security and violated rules on internet privacy and was brought before the Harvard University Administrative Board for discipline. Likewise in 2006, he did it again introducing Facebook newsfeed causing another privacy concern uproar amongst the users. And of course now the infamous Beacon with its lights drastically dimmed after being lambasted by privacy groups such as, the press, blogosphere, and even their Beacon affiliates. It seems like the lesson he learned is definitely “better to ask for forgiveness than permission”.

Oh incidentally, for someone who shows such little regards with others privacy, he sure has lawyered up to protect his own privacy in the ConnectU lawsuit. He filed to remove certain docs and blog posts he made while he was in Harvard. If you wish to know more details of the ConnectU case, read this article

If you wish to see the privacy that Mark is so desperately trying to protect and block, here’s the URL


That adage applies to management, not customers. It’s better to move first instead of wait for management approval as you can always apologize later after you’re successful. That model breaks down with customers who hate surprises.

In this case, Facebook burned through some of the goodwill they have built up. That leaves them vulnerable to another misstep.

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