Facebook retreats

Since some following the Facebook events may not actually be using Facebook, I’ve copied Zuckerberg’s response below.

I do think there are parallels between this and the release of the AOL search data. In both cases, designers failed to predict the potential privacy implications of their systems. It’s worth contrasting these with another rollout over the last few weeks: Flickr’s addition of photo geotagging capabilities. I would be surprised if Flickr actually engaged in more participatory design than Facebook or last.fm has, but they made clear when you started geotagging that it would affect your privacy, and gave you a reasonably fine-grained control over who would see what.

I’m not suggesting that more participatory design and evolution, particularly for social systems, isn’t a good thing or a necessary thing. But I think a more pressing issue may be preparing our designers–both on the CS/application coding side and on the designerly user experience side–to think more about the moral impact of their code. Neither of these issues, I think, could have been covered easily by the kinds of ethical codes already present (ACM, SPJ, CPSR, etc.), but needs a more flexible approach that requires the designer to think through and measure user responses.

On the other hand, some, including Zuckerberg himself below, have suggested that the response was actually amplified considerably by the technology itself, as it allowed for fairly marginal and low effort social organizing. I actually don’t think that this is a function of the major user group being undergraduates. I suspect this is a hallmark of a lot of current social uses of the internet, from politics to knowledge building. I think that Wikipedia, YouTube, and the Howard Dean campaign all benefitted from this ability to aggregate very small amounts of attention/effort/money/time from a very large audience.

[The following copied from the Facebook system verbatim.]

An Open Letter from Mark Zuckerberg:

We really messed this one up. When we launched News Feed and Mini-Feed we were trying to provide you with a stream of information about your social world. Instead, we did a bad job of explaining what the new features were and an even worse job of giving you control of them. I’d like to try to correct those errors now.

When I made Facebook two years ago my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better. I wanted to create an environment where people could share whatever information they wanted, but also have control over whom they shared that information with. I think a lot of the success we’ve seen is because of these basic principles.

We made the site so that all of our members are a part of smaller networks like schools, companies or regions, so you can only see the profiles of people who are in your networks and your friends. We did this to make sure you could share information with the people you care about. This is the same reason we have built extensive privacy settings – to give you even more control over who you share your information with.

Somehow we missed this point with News Feed and Mini-Feed and we didn’t build in the proper privacy controls right away. This was a big mistake on our part, and I’m sorry for it. But apologizing isn’t enough. I wanted to make sure we did something about it, and quickly. So we have been coding nonstop for two days to get you better privacy controls. This new privacy page will allow you to choose which types of stories go into your Mini-Feed and your friends’ News Feeds, and it also lists the type of actions Facebook will never let any other person know about. If you have more comments, please send them over.

This may sound silly, but I want to thank all of you who have written in and created groups and protested. Even though I wish I hadn’t made so many of you angry, I am glad we got to hear you. And I am also glad that News Feed highlighted all these groups so people could find them and share their opinions with each other as well.

About a week ago I created a group called Free Flow of Information on the Internet, because that’s what I believe in – helping people share information with the people they want to share it with. I’d encourage you to check it out to learn more about what guides those of us who make Facebook. Today (Friday, 9/8) at 4pm edt, I will be in that group with a bunch of people from Facebook, and we would love to discuss all of this with you. It would be great to see you there.

Thanks for taking the time to read this,


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  1. Posted 9/8/2006 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I also felt that the system’s architecture allowed for self-organized protests to occur, in this case the system was used against itself. I shared a similar perspective about the this event mirroring the AOL incident:

    “One word: Covergence. What Facebook has done is to simply put all the pieces of you in one place, sorta like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. An extreme worse case scenario was when AOL released search results of their users… we remember how netizens could piece together pieces to reveal pretty scary people, including someone who was clearly researching how to kill his wife. As such, the rules of privacy apply everywhere on the Internet, including Facebook.”

  2. Posted 9/10/2006 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    I wonder if this sort of problem isn’t in itself embedded in the architecture itself… this has to be a question, as I’m not as versed in Facebook as I might… mostly because I wrote it off as uninteresting to me as an educator, though recognizing its interest to IS and sociology people. FB is one of the thin social technologies; linking people and building social networks, but never plumbing the depths of the individuals or social relationships. It is always the event, the happening, the cocktail party, the rave perhaps, (insert current social activity). It is not the kitchen conversation at a party, the dinner with Andre, tuesdays with Morrie. It may be a funeral, but never a wake. With thin social technologies, one can build a community, but never actually have a community, thinking back to Rheingold. It got me thinking of some of Wellman’s stuff… it is not what we do with a technology that is important, it is what we say with a technology. I always rant that computers are tools for putting people in touch with people (and the personal products that they create). And I guess that this stands but with thin social technologies the connection is all that is there. Just a link, a line, contact information, event planner… I think I’ll go finish this on my blog, this is getting interesting.

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    […] A little-known aspect of blogging is that it creates whole new ways for students to polish the apple, for example, <a href=”http://alex.halavais.net/facebook-retreats/”>linking the teacher’s blog</a>. […]

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