Facebook Founder Defends Privacy Controls

Mark Zuckerberg indicated the social network is likely going to stick with its opt-out strategy on sharing personal information.
In an interview on Facebook's handling of users' privacy, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg gave no straightforward answers. But the overall impression from his comments is that the online social network is likely to continue requiring users to opt out of many features that share personal information.

Zuckerberg on Wednesday defended Facebook's handling of privacy in an onstage interview at The Wall Street Journal's D8 conference. While acknowledging that controls for sharing personal information had grown too complex, Zuckerberg gave a confusing reason for not having information-sharing features turned off by default and letting users decide whether to turn them on.

"Making these products that people can share and that people have control and that are simple to do both is this balance, and opt in versus opt out is one part of that balance," Zuckerberg told Wall Street Journal tech reporter Walt Mossberg.

Earlier, the Facebook co-founder said the site was created to enable people to communicate not only with friends, but the community around them. The site initially focused on colleges, but has since expanded to companies and recently to geographical regions.

"It's never been by default just your friends," Zuckerberg said. "It's always been the community around you."

Last month, Facebook responded to criticism that it wasn't doing enough to protect users' personal information by simplifying privacy settings and reducing the amount of information that is shared publicly. Before the changes, Facebook had 50 privacy settings and 170 privacy options.

"The big feedback we got that really resonated with me is that over time the privacy settings have just become too complex," Zuckerberg said.

However, Zuckerberg insisted, as he's done in the past, that the definition of privacy is changing along with the proliferation of online social networking tools. Beyond that, the CEO offered little insight on how people could protect personal information while still staying connected.

"My prediction would be that a few years from now we will all look back and wonder why there was ever this time when all these Web sites and applications, whether they're mobile applications or Web sites, weren't personalized in some way," he said.

In the meantime, pressure is mounting from privacy and consumer protection groups calling for government regulations to protect users of online social networks. Last month, 15 such organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and sent a letter to Congress saying Facebook has engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of consumer protection law.