Facebook CEO Admits Mistakes, Promises Improved Privacy

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made his first public comments addressing the controversy surrounding a recent set of changes to the site that appeared to erode users' privacy, promising a new set of tools that will make it simpler for members of the popular social networking site to understand and manage how their information is used.

In a column published Monday in the Washington Post, Zuckerberg offered few specifics about the changes Facebook would enact, but conceded critics' charge that the site's privacy setting had become overly complicated and difficult to navigate.

"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," Zuckerberg said. "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."

The company's latest controversy followed closely on its annual f8 conference held in April, when Facebook announced a sweeping set of new products and changes to the site aimed at broadening users' social connections around the Web.

That meant that certain information would be shared with third-party sites unless users opted out, while some sections of a user's profile would automatically be publicly available on the general Web.

Now, Zuckerberg is promising that Facebook's developers are at work on a new set of controls, including a feature that would allow users to turn off all communication with third-party services.

"We have heard the feedback," he said. "There needs to be a simpler way to control your information. In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use."

Separately, in an e-mail to prominent technology blogger Robert Scoble, Zuckerberg acknowledged that the company has made "a bunch of mistakes" and that officials would begin discussing new privacy features and controls as early as this week.

For Facebook, the concerns about invasive privacy policies have become an all-consuming issue, as users have begun to organize protest groups around the Web and call for a boycott of the site.

In the meantime, Facebook has been facing a growing number of calls from government officials and consumer groups asking it to revamp its privacy policies. Company officials have met with congressional staffers to discuss the site's privacy controls after a group of senators asked the Federal Trade Commission to open an investigation.

Consumer advocacy and privacy groups have also called on the FTC to open a probe into Facebook's privacy policies, suggesting that they may run afoul of laws barring unfair and deceptive trade practices.

European and Canadian privacy officials have also raised objections about the recent changes Facebook has made to its site.

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.