Facebook CEO says mistakes made, privacy changes coming

Mark Zuckerberg column pledges that new, simple Facebook privacy settings are on the way

In the midst of a beating from users up-in-arms about its privacy policies, Facebook Inc. said on Monday that its engineers are working on making its privacy settings easier to use.

In a column published today in the Washington Post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that the company has made mistakes in its continuing push to further enable social connections, and that Facebook hopes to soon introduce new, easier-to-use privacy settings and make it simpler for users to make sure their personal information isn't shared with third-party Web sites.

"Facebook has been growing quickly," wrote Zuckerberg. "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."

Zuckerberg said one of the main concerns heard from Facebook users in recent weeks was the lack of a simple way to control who can see and share information they have posted on the social network.

"Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls; but that may not have been what many of you wanted," he added. "We just missed the mark. 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."

Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said making Facebook's privacy settings easier should help quiet loud complaints from users about how complicated and confusing it can be to work through them. However, to keep users happy, Facebook must further stregthen privacy controls.

"Acknowledging the problem is essential," he said. "It's a necessary first step. There's still an intrinsic tension between users' need to retain privacy and Facebook's wish to monetize user information. For instance, I'd like to see them commit to making clear unambiguous announcements about changes in information access policy. I'd like them to provide some guidance about the potential danger of making some information available."

In the past month, there has been growing user unrest and anger that Facebook is playing too fast and loose with information about its users.

In April, Facebook unveiled a bevy of tools aimed at extending its reach by letting user information be shared with other Web sites.

That move caused an uprising among users and prompted U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer to write an open letter urging the Federal Trade Commission to set up privacy guidelines for all social networking sites, including Facebook and rivals Twitter and MySpace.

That led to a meeting between Facebook executives and members of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer's staff.

Gottheil said Facebook has some work to do to repair its image.

"Paying attention to the potential consequences of their actions has to become part of their culture," he noted. "Long term, they want to be trusted. To be trusted, you must be trustworthy."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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