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November 30, 2011

Zuckerberg opens up over Facebook privacy “mistakes”

The Beacon targeted advertising system was highlighted as one of a "bunch" of mistakes social network has made

By Cbr Rolling Blog

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has admitted that he has made plenty of mistakes when it comes to privacy on the social network site.

Zuckerberg took to his blog following the announcement that Facebook had settled with US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over privacy concerns. The settlement will require Facebook to obtain its users’ consent for certain changes to privacy settings and subject the social networking company to 20 years of independent audits.

He admitted that his dream of Facebook’s 800 million users sharing all their information online – which of course the company needs in order to sell adverts and make money – does not perhaps match up with what the users want.

"I founded Facebook on the idea that people want to share and connect with people in their lives, but to do this everyone needs complete control over who they share with at all times," he wrote.

Zuckerberg went on to say that when he first created Facebook, no one wanted a public page on the Internet because the idea seemed, "scary. But as long as they could make their page private, they felt safe sharing with their friends online. Control was key."

Control however was one thing that many Facebook users felt they lacked, particularly as the site made a number of changes to privacy settings over a short period of time, in response to criticism from regulators and users.

A recent study by Which? Computing revealed that 48% of users felt they could not keep up with the number of changes Facebook has made to its data security settings, which at one point totalled nine changes over an 18-month period.

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Now Zuckerberg had admitted that the company has gone about some aspects of privacy and data sharing in the wrong way.

"Overall, I think we have a good history of providing transparency and control over who can see your information," he wrote. "That said, I’m the first to admit that we’ve made a bunch of mistakes. In particular, I think that a small number of high profile mistakes, like Beacon four years ago and poor execution as we transitioned our privacy model two years ago, have often overshadowed much of the good work we’ve done."

Beacon was Facebook’s short-lived feature which used information from external websites a user had visited to enable more targeted adverts on the Facebook site. It could also publish some information, such as recent purchases through partner websites, to a user’s Facebook wall.

"I also understand that many people are just naturally sceptical of what it means for hundreds of millions of people to share so much personal information online, especially using any one service," Zuckerberg continued. "Even if our record on privacy were perfect, I think many people would still rightfully question how their information was protected. It’s important for people to think about this, and not one day goes by when I don’t think about what it means for us to be the stewards of this community and their trust."

It was recently reported that Facebook is set for a spring 2012 IPO, which would value the company at $100bn.

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