Will Facebook’s privacy changes work?

Marketplace Staff May 26, 2010
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Will Facebook’s privacy changes work?

Marketplace Staff May 26, 2010
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TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: Privacy online is a many-layered thing. So we thought we’d explore the challenges it poses for Facebook and for the rest of us a little more.

Farhad Manjoo covers technology for Slate. Farhad, it’s good to have you with us.

Farhad Manjoo: Thanks. Good to be here.

Ryssdal: So let’s say I’m sitting at home, and I’m a tad skeptical about Facebook and its previous attempts at the privacy thing. Did anything that happened today change my mind?

Manjoo: Well, I think the most important thing is, it seems that they’re taking privacy seriously in a way that they might not have been before. According to Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO, they kind of holed up in a room for the last few weeks with designers and engineers and other people trying to come up with a brand new privacy system. And the other thing that’s important about the new privacy system is, not only is it simple, but they say that it will apply to all future changes. So if they unveil a new product at some point in the future, it won’t completely change your privacy settings. It’ll kind of respect those previous wishes of yours.

Ryssdal: Although, to judge by the past, their modus operandi if you will, has been ask for forgiveness, not permission, before they mess around the privacy.

Manjoo: After they make changes, there’s usually an outcry, then they say — usually it’s a letter from Mark Zuckerberg on the site — and he apologizes, pledges to do better next time and then the outcry sort of dies down. And then, inevitably, what happens is hundreds of millions of people more join the site. So, this seems to be sort of a pattern that goes on.

Ryssdal: A lot of the complaints about privacy on Facebook, though, have been not necessarily about me putting my information out there, but corporations and other individuals getting in on that sharing.

Manjoo: The thing that has been unclear about the privacy settings on Facebook is that, you know, you put something out there and you don’t know what access everyone on the Internet has to it. And by “everyone on the Internet,” that includes kind of developers, programmers who can make right programs to search your information, and with that information, they could plausibly go out and sell ads that are more better targeted to your profile.

Ryssdal: Facebook is still privately held, it’s not a public company, so we don’t know the specifics of this. But can they profitably exist with these privacy concerns, with these problems they’ve been having?

Manjoo: You know, what Facebook needs to sort of succeed as a business is scale. And it has that scale, it’s going to keep growing more. So if that continues to happen, which there’s no sign that it’s not, then Facebook, I think, will be doing fine.

Ryssdal: What does that say about us as consumers with, in theory anyway, privacy concerns? Not much does it.

Manjoo: It’s this new reality, where people, they understand a little bit that their information is going out there. They’re concerned with it. In surveys and other things people say they’re concerned about privacy online, but they’re not really doing anything about it. They’re not really acting out on those fears.

Ryssdal: Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for Slate. He’s a commentator for us every now and then as well. Farhad, good to talk to you.

Manjoo: You too. Thanks a lot.

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