Conroy slams Facebook for privacy breaches as Zuckerburg admits site “missed the mark”

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has pledged to introduce simpler and more comprehensive privacy controls in response to weeks of protest against the site and its perceived lack of care for users’ data.

The defense comes as communications minister Stephen Conroy slammed the site in a Senate Estimates hearing, along with internet giant Google, for treating users’ privacy with contempt.

Zuckerberg said in a Washington Post column yesterday the site was facing a challenge in balancing the need for privacy against the company’s goal of connecting users to others through their personal data.

“The challenge is how a network like ours facilitates sharing and innovation, offers control and choice, and makes this experience easy for everyone. These are issues we think about all the time. Whenever we make a change, we try to apply the lessons we’ve learned along the way.”

Part of the problem for the site isn’t that controls are available, but these controls are too complex and difficult to understand.

“Our intention was to give you lots of granular controls; but that may not have been what many of you wanted. We just missed the mark.”

Thousands of users have complained about regular changes to privacy settings, which accidentally allowed private information to be shared publically for a short time.

Additionally, users have also complained some settings allowed information to be distributed to third-party application developers and advertisers, despite the company saying this would not occur.

The privacy commissioners of Australia and Canada have announced investigations into the site’s practices, while the US Federal Trade Commission is currently bringing a complaint against the site on behalf of several privacy organisations.

“We have heard the feedback. There needs to be a simpler way to control your information. In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services.”

“We are working hard to make these changes available as soon as possible,” Zuckerberg said. “We hope you’ll be pleased with the result of our work and, as always, we’ll be eager to get your feedback.”

The article comes after a damaging few weeks for the social networking giant. Last week comments made by Zuckerberg during his time at Harvard University were released, showing the billionaire insulting thousands of students who had given private information for an early version of the site.

This sparked uproar among current users, who claimed Zuckerberg would attempt to exploit their data at any cost. The company attempted to clarify its position by announcing two new privacy tools, but it didn’t stop over 14,000 users from signing up to a “Quit Facebook” protest.

While this is a small portion of the 400 million users currently logged on to Facebook, it represents the growing animosity against the site.

Zuckerberg pledged in his article to “keep listening” and asked to hear from anyone with an interest in the site. “And we will keep focused on achieving our mission of giving people the power to share and making the world more open and connected.”

However, the troubles for the site don’t stop there. In a Senate Estimates Hearing yesterday, communications minister Stephen Conroy attacked Facebook for not handing users’ privacy with care.

”Facebook has also shown a complete disregard for users’ privacy lately,” Conroy said in response to a question.

”Facebook, I understand… was developed by Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg, who after breaking up with his girlfriend developed a website of all the photos from his yearbook so he and his mates could rank the girls according to their looks. An auspicious start for Facebook.”

Conroy also attacked internet giant Google for its latest blunder, which saw the company accidentally gather information from private WiFi networks while capturing pictures for its Street View service.

Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis has said an investigation into the matter will go forward, but Conroy would not confirm whether telecommunications laws have been broken.

The company deleted most of the user data it collected, but has said it will keep some data for the time being until it determines the best possible way of eradiating it.

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