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Facebook Exec Faces Customer Privacy Questions


In what can viewed as either an act of corporate bravery or stupidity all at once, Facebook offered up their vice president of public policy, Eliot Schrage (right), to the readers of the New York Times to answer their questions about, gulp, Facebook and privacy.

While this was not a live event (questions were taken from readers and then given to Facebook to prepare answers) it is an interesting exercise. Of course, Facebook must have “cut a deal” to make sure they put their spin on the current privacy dust-up before answering any questions. Here are a few choice pieces from the “statement” made in the post at the NYT Bits blog.

Reading the questions was a painful but productive exercise. Part of that pain comes from empathy. Nobody at Facebook wants to make our users’ lives more difficult. We want to make our users’ lives better. Our mission is for Facebook to be the best place in the world to connect and share with friends and family.

Another painful element comes from professional frustration. It’s clear that despite our efforts, we are not doing a good enough job communicating the changes that we’re making. Even worse, our extensive efforts to provide users greater control over what and how they share appear to be too confusing for some of our more than 400 million users. That’s not acceptable or sustainable. But it’s certainly fixable. You’re pointing out things we need to fix.

Personally, when I hit the word empathy and realized it came from a Facebook exec I had a little laughing fit. Once I got past that though, well, I just smiled a lot. Here’s some more to take in. Keep in mind this is Facebook’s ‘monologue’ leading up to the actual questions from readers.

My biggest concern reading these comments has been the incorrect perception that we don’t care about user privacy or that we’ll sacrifice user privacy in exchange for advertising. That’s just not true. We want to be trusted partners with our users in helping manage those tensions. You’ll see below answers that show just how serious we are about doing that.

Strong words which are just words. As they say, that and $1.75 gets you a ride on the subway. Here is the first question and answer from the post.

Real simple one: Why can’t you leave well enough alone? Why do I have to do a weekly ritual of checking to see what new holes you’ve slashed into the Facebook Security Blanket, so that I have to go and hide or delete yet more stuff? Are Facebook customers really pounding on your door screaming that they want more categories of their personal data to be available to marketers every few months? –David, Urbana, Ill.

We know that changing Facebook — something people have demonstrated is important to them — can be unsettling. But we’re always trying to be better and do more for our users. Clearly, we need to rethink the tempo of change and how we communicate it. Trust me. We’ll do better. The second part of your question reflects what is probably the most common misconception about Facebook. We don’t share your information with advertisers. Our targeting is anonymous. We don’t identify or share names. Period. Think of a magazine selling ads based on the demographics and perceived interests of its readers. We don’t sell the subscriber list. We protect the names.

I think the sentiment around how the rest of Q & A went can be summed up by the following comment from Bill in NY (read those comments for the real response as well as the comments on Facebook’s own Facebook page).

The last sentence of this interview, “I’m sorry we didn’t do a better job”, is such a hackneyed phrase coming from the Facebook guys. I do not exaggerate when I say, when was the last time they unveiled something and did NOT have to apologize for it in some form or another?

I suggest you go and read the entire piece to get the full picture of what was said and then you can draw your own conclusions about where Facebook stands with regard to privacy. After that let us know your thoughts and concerns here at MP. Has Facebook actually done real damage to itself with its privacy issues or will this all be “much ado about nothing” in a few months?

  • http://www.bigpictureweb.com Josh Braaten

    I haven’t decided if Facebook is good or purely evil yet. I do know that it must be extremely difficult converting an all-fun-and-games model to a solid business model.

    Google did the same thing with AdWords. Is Facebook different because it’s “personal?” Or is it just the incredible lack of communication and disregard for the user?
    .-= Josh Braaten´s last blog ..10 Blogging Mistakes, Tips and Tricks: One Year in the Making =-.

  • http://cmrctube.blogspot.com/ cmrctube

    i think that there isnot privacy in facebook i like it but for sharing & making friends and for business only and not put any private pictuers
    .-= cmrctube´s last blog ..How are marketers facing demand’s kinds? =-.

  • http://www.brianjones.ca Brian Jones

    I think the real problem is that social media applications do not belong in the cloud, and I question really if the cloud should exist at all. When we put our applications in the cloud we surrender control of our data and privacy. I think in the future, we’ll return to distributed apps, like email, where we always have control of our data.
    .-= Brian Jones´s last blog ..Social Media Apps Don’t Belong In The Cloud =-.