Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has written a carefully crafted near-apology in today's Washington Post. And while his promises of coming improvements are welcome, the essay's not so much a grand gesture as calculated damage control.
The changes Zuckerberg intimates are ones we've heard of before: making it simpler for users to control their information and to turn off third-party services. The rest of the column's 500 words are dedicated to the real message Facebook needs to push now: spin. So let's look at some examples, emphases added.
"Facebook has been growing quickly. It has become a community of more than 400 million people in just a few years. 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."
Unfortunately, that seems to be a little in reverse. Facebook's recent actions haven't served its 400 million-strong users nearly as much as it has the advertisers that feed on their personal information.
Many people choose to make some of their information visible to everyone so people they know can find them on Facebook. We already offer controls to limit the visibility of that information and we intend to make them even stronger.
That may have been true in 2004, but as this chart of Facebook's privacy devolution shows, today's Facebook user's info is automatically visible. They have to choose to hide it. The problems inherent with opt-in privacy are ones Facebook has yet to address in any forum.
I'm all for simpler privacy settings. I'm even more in favour of an easy way to shut down third-party services. But this is so transparently a PR move. And once this particular fire has been put out, the Facebook privacy creep will undoubtedly be put right back on track.