Mark Zuckerberg says sorry for Facebook privacy mistakes
Facebook has admitted a series of errors in the way it handled its customers’ private data.
“I’m the first to admit that we’ve made a bunch of mistakes,” co-founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a lengthy post on the company’s official blog on Tuesday.
Facebook has agreed a settlement with the US regulator the Federal Trade Commission thus avoiding a fine provided it does not transgress again.
So what has it been doing wrong?
Firstly two years ago it changed its privacy policies and settings, meaning things we thought were private became public, such as who you are friends with.
Secondly, it also shared more personal information than it needed to with some of the applications – such as social games like FarmVille - that run inside the FaceBook website. It also allowed advertisers to learn the Facebook user id of the people who clicked on adverts, potentially allowing them to visit your profile and find out more information about you. Facebook say there is no evidence that any advertiser actually did this.
Thirdly, sometimes content that you may have thought you deleted remained on some of Facebook’s many servers around the world – something the company is still trying to fix.
The company has promised not to let such issues arise again, and faces a fine of up to $16,000 per infringement should this happen. The Federal Trade Commission told me that could mean $16,000 per user whose rights were infringed in the United States. With over 150 million users in the USA, that could be a lot of money.
The company is still under investigation by the irish authorities for similar breaches, which matters because the Facebook international HQ is in Dublin. This means the rights of all users within the European Union are being checked.
Making us feel secure about our privacy is incredibly important for Facebook as its eight hundred million users are its biggest asset, and if we stop sharing on Facebook, the company would be worth next to nothing.
But surprisingly this critical ruling could actually end up being good news for Facebook.
In my view, it means, in the USA at least, a line had been drawn in the sand – giving the official all-clear to its current privacy settings, which are actually quite generous to the company. And with a floation expected next year this ruling could steady investors’ nerves, helping the company towards what is expected to be the biggest initial public offering in US corporate history.