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Monday, May 24, 2010

Today's Facebook Op-Ed

Posted by Marjorie Skinner on Mon, May 24, 2010 at 2:45 PM

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and chief of Facebook, has an op-ed in the Washington Post today, addressing the hordes of pissed off people seriously considering taking down their FB profiles in the wake of yet another round of complicated privacy setting changes:

The challenge is how a network like ours facilitates sharing and innovation, offers control and choice, and makes this experience easy for everyone. These are issues we think about all the time. Whenever we make a change, we try to apply the lessons we've learned along the way. 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.

I don't have a lot of time to micromanage a social network profile, and to a certain extent I don't give a shit about who advertises at me. If the inundation I've been living with my entire life becomes more tailored to my actual interests, I don't think it's that big a deal. I'd much rather be able to approve photos before someone else tags me. On the other hand, I don't even know what all FB has been up to. I'd probably read the entire US Constitution before the entirety of the FB privacy gauntlet; it's shorter (okay, minus amendments, but still), and like I said I'm a busy person. However, I do think it's worth a look at the skewering it's gotten on Mediaite, where they have all the time in the world to be pissed. Author Rachel Sklar lands some good punches in between her thesis point harping on Zuckerberg's addressing it to "you" instead of "Facebook users" or "customers."

Letting Zuckerberg and Facebook get away with such a non-rigorous response to this issue was a real fail. WaPo should have demanded more. Instead, it basically published a press release. And a not-very-contrite press release at that. And Facebook, for its part, just comes across as a company that will plot meticulously to cook up the most confusing and intricate privacy labyrinth in history but won’t bother taking the time to explain how it’s going to fix it — or when. But, you get what you pay for. Oh, wait: ”We will always keep Facebook a free service for everyone.” Hm. Never mind.

I'm still not sure the disadvantages outweigh the advantages in keeping a profile. So often Facebook has been like a wishing well that helps me find anything I need, from a kombucha start to a private pool. But it's getting harder to overlook the company's sneaky tactics and Zuckerberg is pretty obviously playing dumb. Another notable excerpt after the break.

Zuckerberg:

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 hope you'll be pleased with the result of our work and, as always, we'll be eager to get your feedback.

Mediaite:

"In the coming weeks” — after you’ve had the chance to get used to everything, after you’ve decided, feh, I want to post this picture and I’m impatient, so, whatever. (I am extrapolating my own Facebook habits to the world at large here, by the way.) But “in the coming weeks” is pretty vague and indeterminate. It’s not “we’ve reversed everything and put it back to how it was before” and it’s not “in the interim, we’ve done this and this specific thing because we realize how critical privacy is.” It’s “hey, trust us, we’ve totally got this under control, really.” It reminds me of BP.

It’s vague and PR-speaky and skirts around the biggest concerns with fluffy language about how sharing equals love and pretty dancing ponies. Yes they say you have “control over how your information is shared” — but that could just be a pre-checked box that you click through in irritation or, worse, ignorance. Ditto agreeing to make all your info public. By re-stating these principles Zuckerberg deflects the real issue, which is that Facebook has been super-sneaky in finding ways to get AROUND those principles, ways to justify them with aforementioned click-boxes and, oh, more than 50 privacy buttons which lead through to more than 170 options.

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