Zuckerberg: “we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want.” Oh really?

Mark Zuckerberg has a comment up on the Facebook blog in response to the firestorm about their new terms of service:

Our philosophy is that people own their information and control who they share it with. When a person shares information on Facebook, they first need to grant Facebook a license to use that information so that we can show it to the other people they’ve asked us to share it with. Without this license, we couldn’t help people share that information.

He then goes through the simple scenario of a user sending messages and then deleting his or her account.  Should the messages disappear?  Mark says no, and notes that this is also how email works.   Of course this doesn’t have much to do with the reasons why people are upset — what about photos, for example?  What about Facebook reserving the right to sub-license, i.e. profit from, the content that’s been deleted?  Hmm.

Mark then goes on to say:

In reality, we wouldn’t share your information in a way you wouldn’t want.

Great!  I put a comment on the post* thanking him, telling him that I don’t want my information shared with advertisers, and that I want to be able to install applications without giving them access to all my data.  As far as I know, both of these are currently impossible on Facebook.  I also asked the question, with a little more detail, in a thread that a Facebook representative started up in the protest group to get feedback.

Back when I was GM of Strategy Development in Microsoft’s Online Services Group, the Windows Live organization decided that one of their key selling points would be “putting the user in control of their information”.  This led to a lot of discussions along the lines of

Jon: Does this mean users can keep their information from being shared with advertisers?

Somebody else: No, we have to be able to share info with advertisers or we can’t compete with Google and Yahoo.

Jon: Oh.  So users aren’t really “in control”, are they?

Somebody else: There’s lots of things they can control …

Well yeah, but that’s very different from being in control.  And sure enough, this approach of “we’ll tell them they’re in control even though they aren’t”  didn’t prove successful for Microsoft.

And as I pointed out in my last post, this is consistent with Facebook’s pattern of imposing harsh terms on their users and generally ignoring criticisms.  They probably don’t think of it that way of course.  After all, it was only about 5 to 10 million people who were upset about the new user interface; and hey, unless they had designed their software with this in mind, it would have cost Facebook substantial development and testing resources to make those users happy.**  So they incorporated some of the feedback, and probably saw themselves as being responsive.

Things look very different back in corporate headquarters or Davos than they do to the rest of us.  As Erick Schonfeld says on TechCrunch

Zuckerberg is saying, “Trust us.” But it is difficult to trust a company that is stripping users of rights they’ve become accustomed to, even if hardly any of them ever actually asserted those rights in practice.


Then again, maybe I’m being unfair, and Facebook really does intend to put users in control.  I’ll let you know if Mark gets back to me.  In the meantime, the protest group is now over 9000 members.


Facebook graphic from AJC1’s flickr site, licensed under Creative Commons

* although you’ll have to take my word for it.  The Facebook blog doesn’t display comments.  It’s almost like they don’t want any public feedback there….

**   and besides, the new UI is sooooo much better from a monetization perspective