Facebook privacy? No sweat

Mark Zuckerberg was on the hot seat this week over Facebook's new privacy controls, and with good reason: They're not all that hot.

It’s been an interesting week in tech, thanks in part to some high-profile appearances at the AllThingsD:8 confab by folks like Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer, and my favorite whipping boy of the moment, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

What did we learn? That Zuckerberg sweats a lot, but not about the details. And that he’s apparently worried about something, but it doesn’t appear to be his users’ concerns about what he’s doing with their data.

The 26-year-old CEO took the hot seat at D8 and fielded some moderately challenging questions from Walt “Papa” Mossberg and Kara “Mama” Swisher about Facebook’s recent privacy mishegas. But Zuckerberg’s performance was less than impressive, and not just because he was sweating more than America’s Biggest Losers on a nuclear-powered treadmill. He was vague and evasive and falsely sincere in a way that only a prep-schooled 26-year-old billionaire on paper can be. He managed to actually undo some of the good that Facebook’s largely cosmetic changes to privacy controls did in terms of public perception. He even had some folks calling for him to step down.

[Private Memo to Zuckerberg: Dude, what’s up with the hoodie? Yeah, Jobs has his black turtleneck and Gates has those dorky sweaters that look like they were made by his grandma. But as a signature fashion statement I don’t think its working for you. At this point in your corporate career I’d think you’d want to do everything in your power to not look like somebody whose last job was at Burger King. From which he was fired. For stealing customers’ funnel cake sticks. Just sayin.

inside zuckerberg's hoodie

(Recreation of Zucky’s insignia comes via SF Weekly’s Audrey Fukuman.)

And that insignia inside the hoodie? It looks like something put there by the Dharma Initiative. Can you say creepy?]

Coincidentally, while Zuckerberg was perspiring (not inspiring), my Facebook account finally gave me access to those new “drastically simplified” privacy controls that allegedly took two weeks to create and were revealed last week. You know what? They are simpler. Instead of needing 50+ clicks to make my privacy settings totally private, I needed only 29.  Yes, just one shy of 30.

So now that’s only 28 clicks too many – a 42 percent improvement. Boy howdy.

It’s true, the one-page table Facebook set up to handle privacy settings for my Basic Directory Information (updates, biographical info, comments, etc) is pretty nifty. One click lets me make all of that visible to everyone or only to friends, or some combination thereof. Very nice.

facebook basic directory info privacy page

But the rest, as Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan has exhaustively detailed, is buried under menus and submenus, just as it was before. So if you want to keep your friends from sharing your name, bio, and other information with the apps they’ve installed, that will take another 16 clicks. Want to opt out of Instant Personalization with Facebook’s Web partners and remove your stuff from Google searches? That adds another nine clicks.

Why couldn't Facebook add these things to that lovely one-page table and be done with it forever? Per Sullivan:

… I spoke with several Facebook PR representatives as well as COO Sheryl Sandberg, about how things still felt incredibly complicated. Why couldn’t all this be condensed into a single page?

The answer from everyone was pretty similar. Facebook was concerned that listing all the options would overwhelm the user. It made more sense to focus on highlighting controls around content that people create and post, as these are simple things that can be understood at-a-glance.

Yeah, well I’m not buying it. Facebook didn’t simplify these things because deep down in its privacy-hating heart it didn’t want to make it too easy for people to opt out of its monetizing schemes.

Nor am I buying that tired old “privacy is important to us" line that Zuckerberg trotted out at D8. At this point, that’s like BP CEO Tony Hayward telling us how much he cries every time another oil-smeared duck washes up onshore.

I’m just sayin.

Dan Tynan is back. Where exactly he went even he isn’t entirely sure. Discover more things you may not really want to know about him via eSarcasm, his geek humor site, or follow him on Twitter: @tynan_on_tech.

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