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Facebook Scrambles after Unexpected Privacy Fumble 196

bart_scriv writes "Facebook is responding to the recent uproar among its users by deploying better privacy protections and control, as well as being more open about future changes. This could be a case study for other social networking sites on how to avoid or deal with similar problems in the future." From the article: "A week before launch, when asked if he was concerned about a privacy backlash, he appeared surprised, saying, 'No, these people share stuff already and they get something out of sharing.' They've shared all right. And Facebook is listening. On Sept. 7, the site is ratcheting up privacy protections--the result of around-the-clock coding. On their privacy settings page, people will be given greater control over what items will or won't be included in news feeds." Relatedly, an anonymous reader writes "A recent Reuters article mentions that Facebook user Igor Hiller, 17, a freshman at University of California, Santa Barbara is organizing a real-world demonstration next Monday at Facebook's downtown Palo Alto headquarters." Read below for Zuckerman's Open Letter to the community.
theStorminMormon writes ""We really messed this one up." begins an open letter from Mark Zuckerberg to the Facebook community. The letter goes on to say: "When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I'd like to try to correct those errors now.

When I made Facebook two years ago my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better. I wanted to create an environment where people could share whatever information they wanted, but also have control over whom they shared that information with. I think a lot of the success we've seen is because of these basic principles.

We made the site so that all of our members are a part of smaller networks like schools, companies or regions, so you can only see the profiles of people who are in your networks and your friends. We did this to make sure you could share information with the people you care about. This is the same reason we have built extensive privacy settings — to give you even more control over who you share your information with.

Somehow we missed this point with Feed and we didn't build in the proper privacy controls right away. This was a big mistake on our part, and I'm sorry for it. But apologizing isn't enough. I wanted to make sure we did something about it, and quickly. So we have been coding nonstop for two days to get you better privacy controls. This new privacy page will allow you to choose which types of stories go into your Mini-Feed and your friends' News Feeds, and it also lists the type of actions Facebook will never let any other person know about. If you have more comments, please send them over.

This may sound silly, but I want to thank all of you who have written in and created groups and protested. Even though I wish I hadn't made so many of you angry, I am glad we got to hear you. And I am also glad that News Feed highlighted all these groups so people could find them and share their opinions with each other as well.

About a week ago I created a group called Free Flow of Information on the Internet, because that's what I believe in — helping people share information with the people they want to share it with. I'd encourage you to check it out to learn more about what guides those of us who make Facebook. Tomorrow at 4pm est, I will be in that group with a bunch of people from Facebook, and we would love to discuss all of this with you. It would be great to see you there.

Thanks for taking the time to read this,

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Facebook Scrambles after Unexpected Privacy Fumble

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  • by stevemm81 ( 203868 ) on Friday September 08, 2006 @10:42AM (#16066180) Homepage
    I just wish you could turn the feed off altogether - I miss the old, uncluttered homepage. I'm not that concerned about my privacy; as someone said earlier, if I wanted things to be private from my Facebook friends I wouldn't post them on Facebook.

    They've managed to turn one of the more attractive looking pages on the Internet into an ugly mess cluttered with useless information about my friends joining groups I've never heard of, etc. I think they should either eliminate the feeds altogether or put them on a separate page.
  • Nothing shouts 'unstable' like organizing protests at the drop of a hat.
    I hate to sound like a patriotic tool ... but it was demonstrations that built America. It was the right to protest at the drop of a hat that made it so appealing. The fact that more people don't take to the streets when anything goes wrong in the government upsets me. We've really forgotten why this country was built and why so many millions gave their lives. We've taken for granted the right to protest and ignored it.

    You're exercising your right to free speech by saying this protest is uncalled for. I don't understand your logic for calling it 'unstable' but instead they must have some good control of the situation if they can organize people instantly. No company should be above the scrutiny of the consumer and we're all consumers of facebook. They aren't 'harassing' a company, they're asserting their right to make their voices heard. The fact that you used the following words leads me to believe you don't support demonstrations: "screaming, harassing, radical, freaking out, unstable." These are very negative words and it sounds like something that a Facebook employee would say to defend their company.

    These people feel that Facebook breached ethics. Is this true? I'm not sure, but I am willing to listen to a mass of my fellow Americans that feel this is a big deal.

    Perhaps mass protests at "the drop of a hat" would keep our politicians in check? Right now, it seems they can get away with murder and spending more money than we have. I honestly only wish more people would non-violently protest and speak their minds.
  • Re:Oh FFS (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 08, 2006 @10:45AM (#16066211)
    He obviously mostly just wants attention, some people in college will look anywhere for an excuse to protest. These people seem to forget this is a site that offers a free service and is completely voluntary.
  • by Finnegar ( 918643 ) on Friday September 08, 2006 @10:52AM (#16066278)
    While I like that Facebook has made changes in responce to user demand (the largest protest group reached over 700,000 members, even though I don't think it would have reached that WITHOUT the help of the feeds...*grumble*), I still don't see why there was a demand in the first place.

    NOTHING on your feed was something that someone couldn't have seen otherwise. In fact, there are many things that were specificly excluded, such as pokes, messages, things you rejected, and (most importantly) photos you deleted.

    While it'd be good to be able to turn the thing off if you really don't like it (and that's what the protesters are still pushing for), I actually like the change. Instead of taking a look at profiles and guessing as to who has changed what, I can see everything in a single place.

    I expect that in a few months this will be forgotten or considered overblown. Facebook has made something convenient, not malicious.
  • by juxel ( 47764 ) on Friday September 08, 2006 @10:53AM (#16066297)
    Facebook is a social networking site intended to make connecting with people easier, but the problem with all sites like this has always been the lack of classify your level of friendship with someone. For example, my roommates and close circle of friends (who actually care what party I'm going to this weekend) would like to have me on their news-feed. However, the people I have as "friends" that I've met a couple times and we are now Facebook buddies mainly so I can easily let them know when we are having a party don't care whose wall I wrote on.

    I was extremely please when Facebook came out with the limited profiles, I just wish you could have multiple limited settings and then tag friends are a certain level to determine what profile they see. This is a step in the right direction though.
  • A mini-feed program (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JimBobJoe ( 2758 ) <> on Friday September 08, 2006 @11:22AM (#16066501)
    The old way, sure you were posting it on the internet, but there was a certain anonymnity to be found in the data overload of facebook.

    There was a website at one time that plugged into myspace to deliver a semi-similar feed. It watched the profiles of all your friends (or people you wanted "watched") and if their relationship status flipped to single you'd get an email.

    I thought it was a brillant concept. (I believe it was shut down because the way it interacted with myspace violated that site's terms of agreement.)

    What would it take for me to design and distribute a program that you can install on your own computer to do the same thing? (I figure if it interacted with facebook or myspace in a low key way, and basically surfed your friend's profiles as if you were doing it from your own computer, it might just pass TOA muster.)

    It could do a a semi-regular feed of all your friend's walls. It could collect all the pictures from their profiles and put them into a nifty slideshow. It could surf all the profile's friends ad nauseum and create a neural network of the way people have friended each other which you could probably do something really nifty with.
  • by sasdrtx ( 914842 ) on Friday September 08, 2006 @12:14PM (#16066950)
    Good point - they should have. Not that it's much of a privacy issue, just a customer disatisfaction issue.

    Since they didn't (back out the change), and they obviously still don't understand their business, what you and every other annoyed facebook user needs to do is delete your account.

    Once facebook is out of business, smarter people will create better systems.
  • by reidconti ( 219106 ) on Friday September 08, 2006 @01:26PM (#16067507)
    I simply cannot understand what Slashdotters have against Facebook. If this were a discussion about aggregating any other kind of publically-available personal information and streaming it out to people, Slashdotters would be up in arms.

    I don't want all of my friends and family being told when I go to the grocery store, or who I'm hanging out with at any given moment, or what my new driver's license number is, or what time I got to work today. There is tons of information about ourselves that is, by nature public, and some that is private but we choose to make public. Often the tradeoff between what we say and do revolves around *how* public it will be.

    I am careful about who I tell personal things on a sliding scale. I might not share a dark personal secret at all, or tell only a close trusted friend certain things. There are other things that I would tell a select group of people in the hopes that it would stay that way. However, we all realize that information we provide to others and put out there COULD end up on the front page of the newspaper.. but it's a balancing act.

    Same goes for Facebook. Slashdotters simply cannot understand why anyone would put anything on Facebook they don't want everyone to see. Why is this so hard to understand? You post comments on Slashdot publically, but you might say something negative about your boss because you figure they *probably* won't find out -- however, you're posting with the full knowledge that he might find out, and if he does, its your problem. It's a risk you choose to take and balance.

    Why is it so hard to realize that Facebook is the same way? You set your privacy settings a certain way, and post information for others to see, but there is a huge difference between changing your relationship status to single (so that anyone who looks at your profile will see it, and those who have looked before might remember you were once in a relationship), versus having everyone you allow access to your information suddenly TOLD that you broke up with someone.

    The real-world analogue is telling your friends when you see them "oh, I'm single now.." or, perhaps, not admitting it until someone asks "hey, how are things going with that girl?"... versus having "Jim is now single!" broadcast into the homes of all of your friends and family.

    Yes, Facebook information IS PUBLIC INFORMATION. We all get it. But the world is not black and white, and I'd expect Slashdotters, of all people, to understand the difference between publically available information and publically broadcast information.

    To those who don't understand why anyone would put any information about themselves at all online: You're doing it right now. Too late. Get with the program. Your online forum registrations, your slashdot comments. Facebook is cool and fun. It's an incredible way for college students to network with each other, have fun, provide information to friends. The photo tagging feature is just beyond cool. Have you all forgotten what being social and having fun is about? Sucks to be you.

    So Facebook users who find this feature creepy are protesting. They're not suing for release of private information or something stupid like that. They just want things back the way they were. If it doesn't go back to the way things were, those who don't like the new features will shrug their shoulders, and move on. Delete their profile, or make more stuff private, or whatever. There is nothing wrong with being upset about a change in the way a favorite site does things. Nobody's claiming this is illegal, they're just customers complaining. Just like if slashdot went to an all-pink color scheme. People would complain, some might leave, whatever. Would you expect to see people on other sites saying "Man those slashdotters were so stupid to trust their personal comments and entertainment to a site that might some day switch to the color pink! Haha, what a bunch of fools!" But that's precisely what most of the anti-Facebook comments on Slashdot look like. Completely uninformed and ignorant.

    And, FYI, I refuse to even browse the cesspool known as Myspace.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser