Facebook Grapples With Privacy Issues

A backlash over Facebook Inc.’s privacy practices has triggered disagreement inside the company that could force Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to scale back efforts to encourage users to share more about themselves in public.

The social network has come under fire for a series of recent changes to its policies that have limited what users can keep private, as well as embarrassing technical glitches that exposed personal data. Privacy advocates have called on regulators to intervene. Some frustrated users, meanwhile, have created websites that highlight what they see as shortcomings in Facebook’s privacy controls.

The site’s privacy travails have rattled Facebook employees and put pressure on Mr. Zuckerberg, who has argued for years that its users should be more open with their information. He has at times over-ruled employees who argue Facebook should make more information private, by default, according to people familiar with the matter. He has instead pushed to offer tools so users can control their information, these people said.

The privacy problems are piling up as the company, which is approaching 500 million users, grapples with how to build new services off all the data provided by users without offending users. The company is focused on ways to turn that vast amount of data into a multi-billion dollar ad-business.

In recent days, executives and other employees have hunkered down in Facebook’s Silicon Valley headquarters, debating how to address the backlash to two recently launched features. One encourages users to share more about their online activities with Facebook, while another personalizes other websites with information about users’ Facebook friends.

Participants are discussing whether to implement new controls that allow users to conceal their profiles more universally, according to people familiar with the matter. Such tools would represent a big shift from Facebook’s current approach of giving users multiple controls for specific parts of their profiles, and are an option Mr. Zuckerberg has resisted. On Monday, rival MySpace said it would simplify its privacy settings by giving users the option to select one privacy setting for all the information in their profiles. MySpace is owned by News Corp., as is The Wall Street Journal.

People familiar with the matter say some changes to Facebook’s privacy settings could be announced as soon as this week.

A Facebook spokesman said in a statement: “We know we are respected for our innovation in sharing and we want to be just as well-regarded around our innovations for control. And the conversations in the company reflect that.”

People familiar with the matter say that in recent weeks, executives have discussed topics as sweeping as whether to change the default settings on the site, although the company has no current plans to do so.

– from WSJ


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