If a user would rather that Facebook not share her personal information with other services unknowingly, then there should be a simple switch that turns off Facebook’s ability to do that. This was the message delivered by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in an op-ed piece published in Sunday’s Washington Post.
“Facebook has been growing quickly. It has become a community of more than 400 million people in just a few years,” Zuckerberg wrote. “It’s a challenge to keep that many people satisfied over time, so we move quickly to serve that community with new ways to connect with the social Web and each other. Sometimes we move too fast — and after listening to recent concerns, we’re responding.”
The problem with automatically sharing personal data with other sites was magnified with last month’s unveiling of the ‘Like’ system, also known as Open Graph. Ostensibly, it enables sites such as YouTube to inform Facebook about those videos that its users signify that they “Like,” so that Facebook can respond by feeding that user more information about, for instance, their producers or subject matter.
Facebook does give users a way to effectively say, “No, I’d rather not,” with respect to sharing information in this manner, but only on a site-by-site basis. In his op-ed piece yesterday, Zuckerberg explained that this type of “granularity” was something he had thought people would prefer, “but that may not have been what many of you wanted. We just missed the mark.”
The CEO stated that a solution will be made available “in the coming weeks,” in response to what he characterized as complaints from a minority of users. The majority of others don’t complain, he said, but that won’t stop Facebook from trying to please everyone, including those few who think privacy is really important.
“We have also heard that some people don’t understand how their personal information is used and worry that it is shared in ways they don’t want,” he wrote. “Many people choose to make some of their information visible to everyone so people they know can find them on Facebook.”
Recently, many users have discovered their information was already made visible, and not by choice. That prompted Sen. Chuck Schumer (D – N.Y.) to ask the Federal Trade Commission to create new guidelines for all social networking sites, and to act as the police force for compliance nationwide. And earlier this month, Rep. Rick Boucher (D – Va.) introduced legislation that would mandate that any act of personal information sharing between Web sites be expressly indicated to the user at the time it happens, with the user being given the option to stop it.
Zuckerberg’s solution — at least, to the extent he discussed it in the Post — would fall short of that mandate, opting instead to give users an extra option to turn all third-party sharing off. Conceivably, that option may be presented to all users upon logging into Facebook.