Mark Zuckerberg Breaks Silence to Apologize

Posted by: Rob Hof on December 5, 2007

Faced with a firestorm of protest over a part of its month-old ad strategy that raised some members’ privacy hackles, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg finally broke his silence today to apologize:

About a month ago, we released a new feature called Beacon to try to help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web. We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. …

The problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends. It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.

So now, if you’re a member, you can go to your privacy controls page and opt out entirely (well, not entirely—your info still gets sent to Facebook, but doesn’t show up publicly). It looks something like this (if you haven’t bought anything yet at participating sites):

fbprivacy.png

Will this be enough? Some people don’t think so. But if this opt-out actually works, I’m betting the furor eventually will die down, even if the larger issue of consumer data collection by marketers won’t. After all, even during the debacle, Facebook traffic kept growing like a weed.

The bigger question: How much of an impact will this have on Facebook’s ability to boost revenues to justify even a piece of that $15 billion valuation? Hard to tell right now, but with even some advertisers now a little queasy about ticking off their customers by turning them into marketing vehicles, Facebook will have much more of a challenge than it appeared just a few short weeks ago.

Reader Comments

Erin Collopy

December 5, 2007 5:32 PM

I've got colleagues who've already shut down their Facebook and mySpace pages due to all this Beacon hubbub this week.

As for me, I'm not willing to jump ship quite so quickly as I'm seeing real tangible value from social networks to keep in touch --or get back in touch with --friends and family. Heck, I'm meeting a cousin I haven't seen in nearly 10 years for dinner tonight after getting reconnected on Facebook.

I've also recently started leveraging Facebook from a more work-related perspective and have seen some tangible benefits. I'm not ready to give those up yet either.

I hate to have to say it, but I think this is somewhat the result of having a less-than-seasoned CEO at the helm who may have great ideas, but can get a bit lost along the way with the implications of the implementation of those ideas.

The reality is that a large number of Facebook users will probably never even *hear* about the Beacon issue and, assuming Facebook really does fix it, will continue playing Scrabulous and throwing sheep at one another the same as before.

Hesh

December 6, 2007 12:49 AM

I like Facebook and I think they have done a good job so far...
Mark is 23 and he is learning too. I give him the benefit of doubt anyday!!Afterall, I connect to so many of my friends with ease with FB and really enjoy the applications.
- Mahesh (India)

tiddle

December 6, 2007 10:29 AM

You can say/stay all you want, but I'm dropping Facebook for good. After much criticism, now we have an opt-out that is half-hearted, given that there is no guarantee that any of those 3rd party sites might not be the proxy Big Brother acting for Facebook.

Zuckerberg might be 23 and he's sure learning, but I'm not willing to let him learn using me as guinea pig.

Sid Welsh

December 6, 2007 3:01 PM

I left Facebook - Went to NetToMe.com

I was concerned about Facebook so I left. I went to NetToMe.com for a fresh start. It is a simple, but slick, social network. I like that it is new and not full of ads.

It seems to have people on it from around the world. There are even a few businesses that are on the site. Looks like a new opportunity for marketing to another audience. It can be found at http://nettome.com

Mike

December 7, 2007 12:36 AM

Beacon may have been a bust, but I love their new text ad system. I've shifted nearly all of my search marketing ad budget from Google & Yahoo to Facebook. My target market is primarily the college students and Facebook provides more targeting capabilities (by city, by school, by undergrad year, etc) than any other ad platform. I'll be spending a lot more here.

--Mike
www.Hotwicks.com

Christina P

December 10, 2007 12:08 PM

How many of these people in uproar truly understand how Beacon works? A lot of people have seen the uproar but don't seem to understand the actual feature at hand.

Personally as an avid user of social networks, I think Beacon is a useful feature. I discovered it while seeing it pop up in action in my browser (before Beacon was widely publicized). I had written a review on Yelp and Beacon automatically shared this in my news feed with my Facebook friends. I saw how it worked right away and decided actually, I don't want to share this particular review in Facebook, so I just deleted the item from my news feed. No big deal.

Conceptually though, it was nice that my social networks (Yelp and Facebook) were connected in this way and allowed me to share Yelp reviews with most of my real friends (who are on Facebook but not on Yelp). Beacon's intent was more likely to make it easier to integrate your experiences across different websites and social networks that you use, not about Big Brother tracking.

tiddle

December 28, 2007 4:44 PM

Christina P: Are you aware of the part of Beacon where it's collecting your info without asking you? With you writing reviews, now I get more worried.

As to sharing info, there was this thing called Passport from Microsoft, remember? The one that's supposed to help us the users. The one that will act as a "broker" for SSO to make our life easier/more convenient. It dies because users do not want one place and one company to "own" them. I guess Zuckerberg doesn't learn, but oh, maybe he was still sucking his thumbs.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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