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Facebook creator faces up to responsibility

Text by Sébastian SEIBT

Latest update : 2010-05-24

Amid growing discontent over Facebook’s lack of privacy protection, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has broken his silence and promised that users of the social networking site will be given greater control over the availability of their personal information.

After enduring several weeks of criticism from an increasingly angry public, the management of Facebook has emerged from the shadows. Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, in an article published in the Washington Post on Monday, announced that the company would take steps to better protect the privacy of users of the popular social networking site.

Moreover, the 26-year-old billionaire conceded for the first time that certain recent decisions taken by the company had “missed the mark”. Facebook’s misfires, all of which concerned the management of personal information, and subsequent climb-downs over the years in the face of user outrage, have become famous (the technology site Cnet provides a chronology of the company’s fortunes). Up until now, Zuckerberg had never publicly admitted that Facebook may have erred in tinkering with the network’s privacy settings. 
 
However, the vitriol of the most recent outcry indicated that something more than just technophile discontent was afoot. From the New York Times to the Guardian, newspapers around the world stressed the importance of respecting individual privacy, with the Times focusing its own piece specifically on Facebook’s failings in this regard. 
 
A long month
 
Why so much anger? At Facebook’s annual conference at the end of April, Zuckerberg announced new rules that increased the accessibility (by default) of most of the personal information of the network’s 500 million users. In order to prevent the public display of their private lives, users have to navigate an electronic labyrinth of settings that make hiding personal information markedly harder. The Wall Street Journal subsequently revealed that Facebook had sold users’ profiles to advertising agencies.
© The evolution of private information made public by default on Facebook between 2005 and 2010 (Image credit: Matt McKeon)
Finally, this weekend, influential blogger Robert Scoble reported that Facebook had started to shut down the accounts of those who dared to criticise the site, an accusation denied by the company.
 
This last attack seems to have prompted Zuckerberg to break his silence. He made a personal response to Robert Scoble before publishing an article in the Wall Street Journal.
 
But has all this come too late? Competing social networking sites, such as Diaspora or OneSocialWeb, market their greater respect of privacy and are garnering increasing interest.

Date created : 2010-05-24

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