Facebook CEO's Privacy Promises: What's Missing

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Facebook CEO's Privacy Promises: What's Missing
Good news: Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg admitted that his site did wrong with users' privacy, and has promised to make changes. But something's amiss from Zuckerberg's editorial in today's Washington Post, and I'm not convinced Facebook will deliver the privacy fixes people want.

Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook "missed the mark" with its granular privacy controls. In the coming weeks, Facebook will add new privacy controls that are simpler to use. I don't think it's the granularity that bothers people as much as the unnecessarily complicated way the options are presented, but that's another story. Anyway, I'm not going to nitpick the changes Facebook may or may not make, as the site hasn't announced anything specific yet.

My main issue is Zuckerberg's ignorance of what's really important to Facebook users. Specifically, I'm talking about opt-in vs. opt-out, an issue that's completely absent from Zuckerberg's WaPo editorial. He rambles on about how the site will keep listening and gathering feedback, and yet he ignores the biggest complaint with Facebook's latest privacy policy changes.

Instead, Zuckerberg outlines five "principles under which Facebook operates." They are:

-- 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.

Alas, those principles already apply. You can control how your information is shared, it just takes a while and requires proactivity. And Facebook insisted two weeks ago that it sells only anonymous information to advertisers, no personal data. So while it's comforting to hear Zuckerberg admit to Facebook's mistakes, it's upsetting that the site's principles are unchanged.

Instead of "You have control over how your information is shared," the principle should be "Only you decide how and where your information is shared." It's a subtle difference, but one that vests the power to make privacy changes in users, rather than Facebook. In other words, you opt in to everything.

I don't think the site will ever get a Bill of Rights for Facebook users, as my colleague Mark Sullivan proposed. The site's "principles under which Facebook operates" are as close as we'll get, and they still miss the mark.

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