The Washington Post published an op-ed on privacy by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this morning. In it, Zuckerberg acknowledges that users need to be able to control their privacy settings more easily. Among the highlights:
Facebook has been growing quickly. It has become a community of more than 400 million people in just a few years. It’s a challenge to keep that many people satisfied over time, so we move quickly to serve that community with new ways to connect with the social Web and each other. Sometimes we move too fast — and after listening to recent concerns, we’re responding.
The biggest message we have heard recently is that people want easier control over their information. 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. We just missed the mark.
We have heard the feedback. There needs to be a simpler way to control your information. In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services. We are working hard to make these changes available as soon as possible.
We have also heard that some people don’t understand how their personal information is used and worry that it is shared in ways they don’t want. I’d like to clear that up now. Many people choose to make some of their information visible to everyone so people they know can find them on Facebook. We already offer controls to limit the visibility of that information and we intend to make them even stronger.
Here are the principles under which Facebook operates:
— You have control over how your information is shared.
— We do not share your personal information with people or services you don’t want.
— We do not give advertisers access to your personal information.
— We do not and never will sell any of your information to anyone.
— We will always keep Facebook a free service for everyone.
I believe Zuckerberg when he says that rapid growth (and the resultant steep learning curve) led the company to make mistakes. I also think, however, that rapid growth made executives prioritize other factors, like scaling effectively, over privacy. The privacy issue came as a PR firefight, and rightly so–without a public uproar, management would have gone on its happy way, scaling and monetizing, and privacy would have been left on the backburner.
The interesting thing is that people keep using Facebook despite having problems with the way it’s set up. Why? Because, at least if you’re in the States, there are no viable alternatives with the scope and reach of Facebook. Nowhere else can you find as many friends, colleagues, and acquaintances in one place. It’s not ideal–heck, it’s not even that great in many ways–but you use it anyway.
If this sounds something like using Comcast or AT&T because you lack other alternatives, read this post by danah boyd about Facebook as a utility. It may make you think differently about Facebook as a choice, as well as the future of social media regulation.