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8 times Facebook has had to back track

Hasty moves by the social network

Facebook has made a number of hasty moves that often result in public outcry and a need to reverse on them. We check out the social network's biggest flip-flops.

Still more data made public

Flip: In April 2010, Facebook decided to widen the set of Facebook user information it classified as public, or sharable with partners or advertisers. Not only was users' basic personal information now public, but so was their current city, education, work, likes, interests, and friends. Privacy groups went into overdrive. In a letter to CEO Zuckerberg, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU of Northern California, and the Center for Democracy and Technology asked that users be required to opt into Instant Personalisation before their data could be used in it, and that more privacy options be provided, including allowing users to "control every piece of information they can share via Facebook".

Facebook insisted that making the data public would make Facebook a more social community and would ultimately benefit users. The reality, of course, was that Facebook - a free service - had simply raised the cost of using the site, not by asking for users' money but by asking for more data that the company could share with its advertising clients and partner sites.

Flop: After a noisy backlash, Facebook announced that it would overhaul its privacy settings. During a May 2010 press conference at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, CEO Zuckerberg said that Facebook had radically simplified its privacy changes: The previous 50 privacy settings were reduced to fewer than 15, and the number of sections in the privacy settings was consolidated from ten settings on three pages to seven settings on one page. In the end, the widened set of public data remained intact.

Privacy changes make more data public

Flip: In November 2009, Facebook decided to update its privacy settings, ostensibly to make them simpler and more user-friendly. The changes included the ability to assign certain privacy settings on a post-by-post basis.

But as is often the case with changes in terms of service that Facebook announces as being benevolent to users, the revised policy offered a big benefit to Facebook as well. Here's what the Electronic Freedom Foundation had to say about the revisions, in a December 2009 blog post: "These new 'privacy' changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before. Even worse, the changes will actually reduce the amount of control that users have over some of their personal data."

Specifically, the new privacy controls set many key personal data points - including the user's list of friends - to 'public' by default, meaning that thenceforth anybody could view the data. The changes also completely removed users' option to keep private their gender, their home town, and the names of pages that they had become a fan of.

Flop: Facebook again relented only somewhat, reinstating a privacy control that hid friend lists on users' profile pages.The friend lists remained fair game for applications developers, however.

NEXT PAGE: The Beacon Blunder

    1. Hasty moves by the social network
    2. Still more data made public
    3. The Beacon blunder
    4. Memorial sites


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