In the aftermath of yesterday’s sweeping privacy changes, I talked with Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg about why the company saw the need to revise settings — and the lessons learned going forward.
How long have these changes been in the works?
It was very clear that the biggest thing that we heard was that people wanted a simpler way to control their information. We listened to that feedback, and looked at our controls and it resonated with us as something we should do. We focused on taking the last couple weeks on building this so when we announced something, it just wasn’t words.
Some people have asserted that Facebook made its privacy settings complicated on purpose. How do you respond to that?
If you think about how it evolved, it’s pretty clear that that’s not what happened. When the site started off, there were only a few pieces of information that you could share, so it made sense to have a few granular controls to control everything on the site. We established this norm [that] every time we have a new piece of information that people can share, we’re going to have a setting for that. Over six years of adding functionality, it got to be a lot.
Why has Facebook made some pieces of information (status updates, profile pictures, likes and interests) public by default?
What we found was that people were getting a lot of value from sharing some things with everyone. So we basically had three buckets: everyone, “friends of friends” and friends, and we recommended that there be a large pieces of information in each of these buckets. For friends only, that’s all of the really sensitive stuff. For friends of friends, it could be who can see the photos and videos of you, which is actually the majority of the content people share on the site. And then for everyone, its basic information and status updates and posts like that.
There’s been this misperception that we recommend all this information be open to everyone. It’s really not true. The recommendation is fairly balanced, but also takes into account that people who shared things with these defaults were getting a lot back from these services.
Are you comfortable that this will ameliorate complaints by some consumer advocacy groups to the FTC?
We worked with a number of organizations and privacy advocacy groups and senators on these changes. Folks have issued, from what I can tell, pretty positive statements about the work that we’ve done. I’ve taken that as a vote of confidence from them that we’re moving in the right direction.
Do you think you’ve acted strongly enough to eliminate user concerns going forward?
Whenever we make changes we get feedback. People are just really passionate about what we do. We like to design products that are the best service. The core work we’re trying to do by modernize the privacy system is really important, and I think we got a lot of things right. But we also made mistakes and we listened to the feedback and adjusted those things.
You’ve been pretty visible this week. Do you plan to step out and be more of a pitchman?
It’s a good question. It’s certainly something I’ve been thinking about. If our mission is to make the world more open and connected, I certainly think that starts with us ourselves. We have this very open culture at the company. Every Friday afternoon, I get up and do a Q&A where anyone in the company can get up and ask me anything they want. One of the things I’m taking away from this is that if we want to lead the world and be the best service for this kind of sharing, that we should really probably be doing a lot more of it ourselves. I wouldn’t characterize it as being a pitchman; I couldn’t do that if I wanted to. But more open communication is good.