Facebook continued to push back against lingering concerns over its privacy controls, issuing a blog post and a letter detailing the ways in which it stewards users' personal data. Privacy advocates issued an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg June 16, asking for more user control over information contained on the site. In response, Facebook issued a counter-letter addressing the advocates' concerns point-by-point, and followed that up with a corporate blog posting on June 18 detailing how its privacy settings worked. According to reports, the privately held company may have earned as much as $800 million in 2009.
This week saw Facebook push back against lingering concerns
over how it uses member data, using resources such as its corporate blog to
insist that individual privacy remains its utmost concern. While the
social-networking site's revenues and membership have only increased over the
past year, a rising chorus of privacy groups and individual users has
questioned the controls over personal information.
On June 18, a posting on the Facebook blog described how the
social-networking site attempts to give users control over that information.
"We recently launched simplified privacy settings in response to feedback that
certain Facebook settings had become too complicated," Monica Horak, an
associate with the Facebook user operations team, wrote in a June 18
posting on the Facebook blog
. "Facebook gives you two ways to [control]
what information you share with applications and Websites."
The first involves a permissions dialogue box that pops up
whenever an application is accessed for the first time, asking for permission
to access personal information. The second is Facebook's privacy settings page,
which, among other controls, allows users to adjust how much of their data is
accessible through their friends' pages.
The blog posting also describes the steps that Facebook
takes to protect users from malware.
"Privacy settings aren't an effective way to block malicious
links and spam, so instead we've built other defenses to combat phishing and
malware," Horak wrote. "We have automated systems that work behind the scenes
to detect and flag Facebook accounts that are likely to be compromised or
In addition, the posting details the workings of the
"padlock" icon beside status updates, and how privacy controls work for minors.
The blog mention comes days after privacy advocates issued
an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg June 16,
a six-point plan to give social-networking sites' users more control over their
Facebook responded to that missive with one of its
own, stating, "We plan to continue to make control easy and effective for all
the people who use our service and will continue to engage those groups and
others in a constructive dialogue about these important issues." Facebook's
letter refutes the advocates' issues point-by-point, trying to portray the
site's more controversial features as designed primarily with users' privacy
and safety in mind.
Facebook's letter also mentions "a new data permission model"
that is "scheduled to launch to all developers in the coming weeks," and points
out an option to "completely turn off Platform applications and websites, so
that none of [users'] information is ever shared with applications, even
information otherwise available to everyone."
Facebook's latest back-and-forth with privacy advocates and
government officials came after a May redesign, which introduced more granular
controls for privacy but also, according to many complaints, ran the risk of
exposing more user data to the larger world. On May 13, a European group of
data protection authorities sent Facebook a letter complaining that alterations
to the Website potentially "changed the default settings on its social
networking platform to the detriment of the user." Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers
urged the Federal Trade Commission to take action regarding social networking
sites' privacy controls.
That uproar forced Zuckerberg to backpedal. "Whenever we
make a change, we try to apply the lessons we've learned along the way," the
CEO wrote in a May 23 op-ed in The Washington Post.
"The biggest message we
have heard recently is that people want easier control over their information.
Simply put, many of you thought our controls were too complex. Our intention
was to give you lots of granular controls; but that may not have been what many
of you wanted. We just missed the mark."
Rampant privacy concerns, of course, have the ability to
potentially threaten Facebook's long-term prospects-which could affect the
site's increasingly robust bottom line. Facebook could have earned as much as
$800 million in 2009, according to
unnamed sources quoted in a June 17 Reuters piece
. If confirmed, that
represents a marked increase from earlier estimates, including Facebook board
Andreessen's prediction that the site would make $500 million
Facebook's revenue and market presence has led to clamoring for an IPO from
some quarters, the company remains privately held.