For some people, this post is going to sound like the grownups in a Charlie Brown cartoon. ("Mwah wah wah wah waaaah...") But really, tech trends are important for us all. So listen up. Or skip it. Totally up to you.
For the uninitiated, Mark Zuckerberg is the founder of Facebook, the newish social media platform that's taking everyone by storm, and allowing software developers by the hundreds to become part of the picture by creating their own applications. All the while, Zuckerberg and his team of (mostly male) developers were developing a Facebook feature called Beacon, which would (in Zuckerberg's words) "help people share information with their friends about things they do on the web." Basically, it would share information about users' activity on third-party partner sites and posts it to their friends' "News Feeds" (a function that provides an update about what your Facebook friends are doing on the site).
But even media moguls and their crack team of twentysomethings trying to rule the virtual world make mistakes. And when something goes wrong, they're man enough to admit it.
At first we tried to make it very lightweight so people wouldn't have to touch it for it to work. The problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends. It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I'm not proud of the way we've handled this situation and I know we can do better.
As CNET points out in their coverage of the issue, Zuckerberg's apology is similar to the one that came last year, after the institution of the now integral and much-beloved News Feeds. Initially, News Feeds were seen as invasive of privacy. But as is noted in Forbes's coverage of the story, Facebook users are used to transparency, and privacy doesn't concern them (us) as much as some think it should.
[...] Facebook users are already in the habit of sharing or concealing their personal details and activities with other users on the site by default, and only opting out of the sharing functions for certain actions they want to keep private, says David McClure, an adviser to start-ups and guest lecturer at Stanford who teaches a class on Facebook. So Beacon's opt-out for broadcasting of purchases represents only a minor shift in the community's tell-all mindset.
"Most people on Facebook are used to this opt-out lifestyle transparency," says McClure. "When they don't want to share, they opt out in a case-by-case basis. The default is that their life is transparent."
First of all, I'd like to get a job teaching a class on Facebook
(like I actually did a year ago to birthright israel post-programming
professionals-- I'm available, people, and I'm pretty affordable).
Secondly, I do think that our generation views privacy differently (and
in the case of many millennials, not enough, or perhaps not at all).
But clearly, opt-in should be voluntary and the default should be "not
a member of Beacon," or any other program, unless we decide to be so.
Facebook is such a modular and customizable platform that it doesn't make sense to remove those controls from the users, even to create more profit for the company. Facebook's mantra isn't necessarily Google's "don't be evil," but Zuckerberg & Co have always held the position that their site wouldn't be the juggernaut it is today without the users. Here's hoping that Beacon and any future programs will keep the users in mind and seek their feedback and buy-in on company improvements, in a process that's truly collaborative.
And that's the week in Zuckerberg.