More Promises from Facebook’s Chief

Mark Zuckerberg had an op-ed in the Washington Post today. In it he characterizes the uproar over Facebook’s privacy changes as a learning experience for the company and has promised easier to navigate privacy controls. He doesn’t really explain much further and I fear that these simplified controls will not address the problem that Danah Boyd identified in her recent writings. She clearly identifies the core issue being that even an engaged, savvy user has trouble to figuring out the effects of changing settings. It isn’t that they cannot figure out the controls, but rather there is a massive disconnect between their model of what the controls do and what they actually do.

He also doesn’t say that the underlying policy changes and automatic push towards making profile data more public will be undone as part of these changes. I expect that such a big reversal is too much to expect, especially since at no point does he actually accept blame and apologizes to users. Further, the set of principles he lists in the post are not in fact the same principles to which the site agreed in the wake of the policies changes back in December. To me, all this says Facebook sees this as a usability failure, not a privacy and trust failure.

In the op-ed, he does mention allowing users to completely disable sharing data with 3rd parties, which would be a huge concession. I’ll reserve praise until I see exactly how that actually works.

I think the changes Zuckerberg describes are mere placation, not evidence of any genuine understanding of people’s legitimate privacy concerns. I will be very happy if I am proven wrong but the fact that he leads off reiterating his naive belief that more sharing and more openness is good, the implication being it is an absolute good, tends to leave me cold. I read it to mean that he still hasn’t understand the argument made by an increasing number of people that the difference between private and public is very much nuanced and that privacy and secrecy simply are not the same thing.

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