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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 2, 2010 at 4:59 PM

D8: Facebook CEO defends privacy approach

RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher didn’t beat around the bush with Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, starting their All Things Digital interview by asking him about the social networking site’s controversial approaches to privacy.

Zuckerberg said the settings grew too complex as the site added numerous features, each with its own privacy controls. But he said some have overblown the situation.

“There have been misperceptions that say we’re trying to make all the information open or something like that,” he said. “That’s competely false.”

Zuckerberg explained that Facebook recommends a tiered approach, sharing sensitive information only with friends, photos and video with friends of friends and the least sensitive information with the general public.

“You seem to have taken some steps to make more public my information as a Facebook member, on your own,” Mossberg said.

Zuckerberg responded by noting that more than half of Facebook users have changed a privacy setting, evidence that people are aware of the controls the site offers.

“People are using them,” he said, adding that “the majority of people who go through this aren’t changing most of the settings.”

“How do you explain the hubbub around it?” Swisher asked.

Zuckerberg responded by telling about how the company went from something started in a college dorm room to a major phenomenon.

“I can’t go back and change the past,” he said. “I can only do what we think is the right thing going forward.”

Zuckerberg sweated heavily during the interview, prompting Swisher to suggest he take off his hoodie sweatshirt. When he did she held it up to show the Facebook mission statement printed inside, adding some levity to the situation.

Mossberg pressed on why Facebook didn’t provide more notification and opt-in choices when it linked users to different services. Shouldn’t people make the decision themselves? he asked.

Zuckerberg said it’s a balancing act when making products and services that people can share.

“Opt-in vs. opt-out is one part of that balance,” he said, explaining that an opt-in approach wouldn’t have enabled Facebook’s core news feed feature to have worked. That apparently influenced Facebook’s thinking as it adds additional services that it believes will enhance users’ experience.

“I think it’s a balance on all these things. I don’t know if we always get it right and want to listen to feedback,” he said.

Zuckerberg’s answers revealed as much about the generational and philosophical gap between the 26-year-old and the interviewers as it did about Facebook’s plans and decision-making. At times it seemed like the conversation was taking place on two different planes.

Looking forward, Zuckerberg said he expects all sorts of Web sites and services will soon be linked and tailored to consumers’ Web profiles and preferences. He describes this as “personalization” and it’s at the heart of privacy concerns that Mossberg and Swisher were highlighting.

“My prediction would be that a few years from now we’ll look back and wonder why there ever was this time when all these web sites …. weren’t personalized,” he said.

“I just think the world is moving in this direction, where things are going to be designed more around people, and that’s going to be a really powerful direction,” he said.

Swisher asked if Zuckerberg plans to be chief executive after Facebook goes public.

“Yeah,” he said, smiling at the tricky question. “I don’t think about going public … much.”

The first question from the audience came from RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser, who asked how Zuckerberg deals with the world looking at him differently after the phenomenal success he’s had, having built one of the five most important Internet companies at such a young age..

“Maybe I’m in denial. I think our goals haven’t really changed much at all. Inside the company we don’t think of ourselves as a company that successful,” he said.

Facebook is “a lot closer to the beginning than the end,” he said.

“I guess as you get bigger people expect you to slow down and do less crazy stuff,” he said. “I guess I hope we never do that.”

Zuckerberg said he personally relies on advice from a core group of people he trusts and has worked with for a long time, “four or five years,” he said, drawing guffaws from the audience of older chief executives.

“Whether it’s them or my friends, that’s what I care about. They’re peole who share my values and the values of the company and think making the world more open and connected is a good thing,” he said.

“There are going to be some people who think what we’re doing is cool and some who don’t,” he added.

Going forward, Facebook will take feedback “and tweak from there.”

Comments | More in | Topics: D conference, D8, facebook

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