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Zuckerberg Responds to Facebook Privacy Concerns, but Is it Enough?

Facebook may have experienced truly impressive growth in the first months of 2010, but good press it has not enjoyed: Facebook privacy concerns have gone from a fringe obsession to a mainstream storyline in light of some of Facebook’s aggressive changes. It hasn’t helped that number of high-profile tech figures such as Peter Rojas and Leo Laporte have quit Facebook to great fanfare.

After one Facebook executive’s attempts to answer New York Times readers’ questions were by most accounts unsatisfying, Facebook is trying again: This time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has taken to the pages of the Washington Post to explain his position and outline the principles on which he says Facebook operates. But his tone isn’t especially apologetic:

From the Washington Post:

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

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.

And then, the principles under which Facebook supposedly 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.

But no one was questioning the fact that Facebook offers some privacy controls. Still unanswered: Why have the default privacy settings continually gotten broader and broader over the years, as Matt McKeon’s “Evolution of Privacy on Facebook” chart amply demonstrates? And why, when Facebook changes its privacy settings, do users who have previously gone through miles of menus and configured their settings suddenly find themselves back at these increasingly public defaults? Is that ‘granularity”? And why is there an increasing number of data that Facebook users must share with the entire Internet, no matter what?

I can understand for business reasons why it didn’t admit to any great past wrongdoings on Facebook’s part (one wonders how many Facebook lawyers vetted Zuckerberg’s op-ed), but I just wish that this letter said something more. And not even, necessarily, that it kowtowed to every Facebook privacy complaint, some of which hold less water than others — just that it addressed the substance of privacy concerns rather than merely acknowledging their existence, and gave some indication as to the nature of the promised changes to come. It’s better than nothing, and it has succeeded in making headlines worldwide to the effect that the head of Facebook has addressed privacy concerns, but there’s precious little substance beyond that.

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