(Source: BusinessWeek)
Facebook attempts to justify its questionable privacy practices

Mark Zuckberg, Chief Executive Officer and founder of Facebook, certainly deserves a lot of credit for creating the world's largest social network.  The network boasts over 350 million users, with approximately 175 million logging in on any given day.  Perhaps only second to Google in click power, the site is also growing rapidly.

However, there's a dark side to that popularity.  Facebook hasn't exactly been angelic in protecting users' privacy.  The network first landed in hot water way back in 2007, when its CEO was forced to publicly apologize for instituting a new system that snooped on users' online purchases and posted them in the user's feed -- without their permission.  That error led to a lawsuit eventually settled for $9.5M USD.

Since that time, Facebook has continued to make a variety of changes -- some based on the premise of protecting privacy, others seemingly eroding it.  But according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, privacy isn't really even something most users want or care about according to  Echoing recent comments by Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who insinuated that those who want privacy are probably up to no good, the 25-year-old executive delivered some controversial comments at the Crunchie awards in San Francisco this weekend.

He commented on the norm no longer being an expectation of privacy, stating, "People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.  That social norm is just something that has evolved over time.  When I got started in my dorm room at Harvard, the question a lot of people asked was, 'why would I want to put any information on the internet at all? Why would I want to have a website?'.  Then in the last 5 or 6 years, blogging has taken off in a huge way, and just all these different services that have people sharing all this information."

Mr. Zuckerberg's remarks come in the wake of recent privacy changes that forced users to elect whether to make all their information publicly viewable (the recommended option) or to opt out and keep their current privacy settings.  Critics have said that Facebook is trying to trick people into giving up their privacy.  They are calling for a Federal Trade Commission investigation of the company's practices.

Mr. Zuckerberg discussed this criticism, stating, "A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they've built.  But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner's mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it."

The opposing opinions seem destined to clash.  For now Facebook is standing its ground.  Facebook employee Barry Schnitt recently commented, "Any suggestion that we're trying to trick them [Facebook users] into something would work against any goal that we have."

Even if Mr. Zuckerberg is right and by and large folks no longer care about privacy, perhaps that means that people need to reexamine their behavior.  After all, approximately a fifth of divorce cases in the UK are related to Facebook, according to British lawyers.

"We can't expect users to use common sense. That would eliminate the need for all sorts of legislation, committees, oversight and lawyers." -- Christopher Jennings

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