Faster Forward: Facebook founder Zuckerberg's not-quite-apology

By Rob Pegoraro
Monday, May 24, 2010; 5:22 PM

This morning's Post features an op-ed from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg expressing a controlled sort of contrition for its recent privacy moves and promising a simpler privacy-settings interface.

The piece falls short of the "we're sorry" apology you might want. Zuckerberg allows that in Facebook's quest to make it easier for people to connect and share online, "sometimes we move too fast." He goes on to write that in trying to give users maximum control over their exposure on the widely used social network, Facebook "just missed the mark."

I don't think anybody can argue that point. Although some of the complexity of Facebook's privacy interface may have been unavoidable -- you want a social network to allow you to have different levels of friendship, right? -- this series of pages has since become the Microsoft Outlook of social media, poorly documented and intimidatingly complex. A simpler system that wouldn't require that users dream in Venn diagrams could only help, and I'm glad to see Facebook working on that -- along with adding "an easy way to turn off all third-party services" on the site.

(In case you missed the past five versions of this disclaimer, Post Co. chairman and chief executive Donald E. Graham still sits on Facebook's board of directors, and Post staffers and the newspaper as a whole continue to use Facebook for marketing purposes.)

But a bad user interface can reflect poor design underneath, while Zuckerberg's "we move too fast" suggests that he thinks Facebook was going in the right direction all along.

If Facebook's new privacy interface doesn't affect such underlying issues as the Palo Alto, Calif., company's practice of altering settings unilaterally and then expecting users to opt out of those shifts afterward, not enough will have changed. We'll have the same trust problem as ever. And before too long, we'll find ourselves reading yet another "we'll do better" essay from somebody in Facebook management.

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