Facebook and Its Many Apologies

Facebook and Its Many Apologies

Mark Zuckerberg,CEO of Facebook, lives by the moto “It is easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”.  If you haven’t checked out Zuckerberg’s “Calm down. Breathe. We hear you” blog, you should. In between the personal success stories are multiple apology letters to the public.  Of course there are going to some unhappy people considering that FB has over 1 billion active users.  But there are legitimate reasons to become angry at the tycoon when it comes to privacy.  

First up, on September 5 2006, Zuckerberg pre-apologized for the changes would be made to Facebook.  Users felt that the mini feed and news feed would reveal too much information.  But he assured the public that “None of your information is visible to anyone who couldn’t see it before the changes.“  Which he was wrong about.  By September 8, he had apologized yet again claiming that he “Somehow  missed this point with News Feed and Mini-Feed and we didn’t build in the proper privacy controls right away”, and immediately updated the privacy controls.

In November of 2007, FB released a new feature called Beacon that allowed users to share information that they find on the web.  It was a good idea, except that Beacon shared information even when the user denied access.  On December 5, Zuckerberg released another letter stating that they “did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it”. And of course changed the Beacon settings to allow users to opt out on the feature.

In February of 2009 Zuckerberg decided to change the privacy settings once again.  Zuckerberg said “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”, which means that all information is double copied. For example, if you send a message to a user two copies of the text is created, the one that is sent and the one that is received.  Even if the user deactivates their account, the message is still accessible.  Many users were upset with this new change and wanted the old privacy settings back.  Facebook listened and did just that, but after blaming Government regulations on their mistake.

When Facebook first started, there wasn’t a whole lot when it came to the privacy settings.  At first applications could access all information that was already visible to the public like contact information and photo albums.  On May 26 2010, Zuckerberg didn’t really apologize, but instead explained how they are going to fix this problem by adding more options to the settings.

In November of 2011, FB ran into some problems with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) over an app called Whatsap.  The settlement was over how the company lied to users claiming that their information was private when it wasn’t.  The FTC demanded that FB made it clear to get prominent consent before they shared any information.  Along with the new demand, FB will be obligated to “Biennial privacy audits for the next 20 years”to sure that privacy is being maintained. 

Several apologies have been issued throughout the years including the recent psychological experiment. Facebook secretly manipulated posts that users would see by including negative or positive words to see how emotions are transferred through social media. Over 700,000 users were tested without giving consent or receiving a notice that the study was taking place. This is a serious problem when it manipulating peoples emotions. The manipulation could have caused users to relapse or remember tragic events that happened in their lives. “This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,” said Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, according to The Wall Street Journal.  Both Zuckerberg and Adam Kramer, a co-author of the study, issued an apology but explained that it was necessary.  They also included that ALL users agreed to sign up for study’s when they agreed to the user agreement policy. Which leaves one question: How many studies have taken place without our notice?

In earlier days FB would provide content based on what the user liked or shared. But now, FB is using content tracking information that the user looks at outside of the site. For example, if you liked a single rock band page and then liked five different country band pages, FB may only provide content on country bands. This limits the information that brands can share with people who (by liking their page) have indicated that they are, in fact, interested in those posts.