Will Zuckerberg's Mea Culpa Turn the Tide for Facebook on Privacy?

Photo of Mark Zuckerberg via Flickr courtesy of Deney Terio under Creative Commons license.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in an echo of previous mea culpas from the social network, has responded to criticisms of the way the company has handled its users’ privacy — but this time he took to the pages of the Washington Post to make his amends, rather than writing a blog post on the Facebook site as he has in the past. Zuckerberg admitted that in trying to give people new ways to connect with each other, “sometimes we move too fast,” and said that Facebook would soon be introducing simplified controls for privacy to make it easier for users to turn off certain services and control how they share information and with whom. But he didn’t say he was sorry, and he made it clear that the network still intends to move ahead with enhanced sharing features.

The Facebook CEO also failed to mention one of the most contentious aspects of the company’s new settings — the “instant personalization” feature that was rolled out at the recent F8 conference, and to which users were opted-in by default — nor did he discuss the moves by a U.S. senator and a group of privacy advocates and consumer groups aimed at getting the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the way the social network handles privacy. Zuckerberg avoided the personalization issue by saying that most of the criticisms were about how “our controls were too complex” and that better controls were coming. He also made it clear that while he’s sorry about the way some of the recent changes were handled, Facebook’s chief interest still lies in getting its users to share more of their information. As he wrote:

People want to share and stay connected with their friends and the people around them. If we give people control over what they share, they will want to share more. If people share more, the world will become more open and connected. And a world that’s more open and connected is a better world.

As Kevin Kelleher pointed out in a recent post, Facebook has an opportunity to turn things around on privacy, but it needs to be very careful in trying to do so. Users are already hyper-sensitive to the issue, as the recent furor over the transmission of user IDs in web page URLs indicates, and are therefore more likely to be suspicious about the social network’s sincerity. That said, the company’s experiences with previous privacy-related concerns around the news feed shows that users can be convinced to change their views on the benefits of sharing. Whether the current storm of criticism is more like that situation or the aborted Beacon initiative remains to be seen.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d): Could Privacy Be Facebook’s Waterloo?

Photo of Mark Zuckerberg via Flickr courtesy of Deney Terio under Creative Commons license.

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