Beacon: Zuckerberg brings the mea culpa

by Mathew on December 5, 2007 · 12 comments

It’s like deja vu all over again, as baseball legend Yogi Berra reportedly said. Just as the Facebook news feed pushed the bounds of what users felt was appropriate in terms of privacy, and caused a backlash that eventually led to a mea culpa (Latin for “I screwed up big-time”) from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s new Beacon Web-tracking “feature” has done almost the same thing — except that it pushed the bounds of privacy as a way of serving advertisers’ interests, not users’ — and sure enough, here comes the mea culpa.

In addition to taking the blame for blowing it, Zuckerberg says that users will now be able to opt-out of the entire feature completely, with a simple click. And it seems as though Marky-Mark may have learned a thing or two about taking the heat: in the case of the news feed, the Facebook CEO at first tried to laugh off concerns and told people that they needed to chill out a little (I’m paraphrasing). This time he takes it on the chin right up front:

“We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it.”

Maybe all of these new features and the frenzy surrounding them are God’s way of teaching Mark Zuckerberg humility :-) In any case, I don’t want to say that I told you so, but I kind of saw this coming. I expected that Facebook would push the envelope of what people were comfortable with, and that as a result of that the company would change its new service.

As nice as it might be to see Mark taking the hit and apologizing, however, you have to wonder: how many more times are they going to get whacked for similar ventures? I think Om Malik has a good point: if Facebook is a social network, then why not ask users what they would or wouldn’t be willing to tolerate before you roll out a new service?

  • http://joeduck.com Joe Duck

    why not ask users what they would or wouldn’t be willing to tolerate

    Ummm, because that would be totally consistent with the claimed model of what a great social network will be, and totally inconsistent with maximizing profit. I'm all for community needs trumping profit, but this can only come about indirectly. Google Open Social is the best bet because *they make their profit elsewhere*. Google can sweep in with a truly user-centric social model, monetize it to a limited extent using adsense, but from their perspective leave their core cash dow – PPC search – intact. Note how Google's ad standards have relaxed quite a bit over the years, but they've been “user friendly enough” to avoid the sharp criticisms that should have been levied at Google when they slapped ads on the left side of the home page, conveniently blurring the distinction between organic and paid listings, then stopped prominently shading the advertising, allowed bogus sites to run adsense, didn't crack down early enough on the spiral of massive click fraud, etc.

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  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Joe, I don't think they are (or have to be) mutually exclusive, or
    that community needs have to “trump” profit. I think it makes sense to
    survey your customers or user base or whatever to see what they think
    of something before you roll it out and have to just as quickly roll
    it back in, that's all.

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  • http://www.robhyndman.com Rob Hyndman

    “I think it makes sense to survey your customers or user base or whatever to see what they think of something before you roll it out”

    Worth noting that this is exactly what Craig and Jim do with Craigslist.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    That's a good point, Rob.

  • http://spap-oop.blogspot.com Tish Grier

    Matt…this is the second time that Zuckerberg's had to issue a mea culpa for violating our privacy. Remember Sept '06 when he had to apologize (and retract) putting RSS feeds on Facebook users' profiles? Seems that Zuckerberg may be trying to find just the right way to leverage all that user-generated content on his site, and the users keep telling him to knock it off. (check my post here)

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I know what you mean, Trish. If this kind of thing keeps happening,
    I'm going to start to think that Mark Zuckerberg isn't sincere :-)

  • http://spap-oop.blogspot.com Tish Grier

    Matt…this is the second time that Zuckerberg's had to issue a mea culpa for violating our privacy. Remember Sept '06 when he had to apologize (and retract) putting RSS feeds on Facebook users' profiles? Seems that Zuckerberg may be trying to find just the right way to leverage all that user-generated content on his site, and the users keep telling him to knock it off. (check my post here)

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I know what you mean, Trish. If this kind of thing keeps happening,
    I'm going to start to think that Mark Zuckerberg isn't sincere :-)

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