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Facebook boss admits privacy 'errors' and promises revamp

Simpler controls coming, promises serial privacy offender

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Facebook boss Mark 'I'm CEO… bitch' Zuckerberg is seeking to soften user anger over privacy erosion with an admission that the social networking site has made some mistakes.

Using an op-ed piece in Monday's Washington Post as a soapbox, Zuckerberg has promised to simplify the site's increasingly complex privacy controls and allow users to opt out of third-party services.

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

"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."

Zuckerberg went on to say the social networking site wants to improve existing controls that limit the visibility of shared information - without going into details - before listing Facebook's five core principles:

  • 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.

Last week it emerged that Facebook, along with other social networks, handed over users' names and locations, contrary to its privacy policy. The revelation followed weeks of criticism on Facebook privacy policies. A privacy roll-back that left previously shielded information widely accessible last year recently received a shoeing from European data protection officials. Elsewhere privacy activists cried foul over Facebook's plans to share user information automatically with "pre-approved" websites.

The ongoing row shone the spotlight on the Byzantine complexity of Facebook privacy controls, and the steady erosion of safeguards over the last five years. Recently unearthed IM transcripts from the early days of Facebook showing Zuckerberg describing early adopters at Harvard "dumb fucks" for trusting him with their data have hardly helped Facebook's cause.

Zuckerberg's promise to tighten up and simplify Facebook's privacy controls is welcome but needs to be checked closely against delivery. It's in Facebook's commercial interests to make user-supplied information as widely shared as possible because it's gold dust to advertisers - the site's real customers. Zuckerberg's contention that privacy controls became too complex because Facebook was growing so fast don't really pass muster, especially considering Facebook's long history of privacy-violating practices. For example, Facebook only turned off its creepy Beacon user data-sharing ad system in September 2009, two years after its initial launch.

At launch, Beacon was on by default and even now privacy activists are fighting Facebook on the concept of making services opt-in and informed consent. Users of social networks want to share information but often only among their network of friends, a concept Facebook has hard time acknowledging, especially of late. ®

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