No, Mark Zuckerberg Will Not Change Facebook’s Privacy Defaults

Tom Williams/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

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So far, Mark Zuckerberg has skated through his congressional testimony without so much as a bruised pinkie. Yesterday produced a grand total of one good round of questions from Sen. Lindsey Graham about whether Facebook is a monopoly, and today has also (so far) produced one good round of questions. It came from Rep. Frank Pallone:

PALLONE: Yes or no? Will you commit to changing all the user default settings to minimize to the greatest extent possible the collection and use of users’ data? Can you make that commitment?

ZUCKERBERG: Congressman, we try to collect and give people the ability—

PALLONE: I’d like you to answer yes or no if you could? Will you make the commitment to changing all the user default settings to minimize to the greatest extent possible the collection and use of user’s data? I don’t think that’s hard for you to say yes to unless I’m missing something.

ZUCKERBERG: Congressman, this is a complex issue that I think deserves more than a one-word answer.

I’ll concede that the old “yes or no” gambit is kind of tiresome, but sometimes it can produce clarity. Facebook’s data collection has always rested on two pillars: its default privacy settings combined with the difficulty of changing them. Neither one by itself is really enough. You need both.

So Pallone wants to know if Facebook will change its defaults. Note that Pallone is not asking Facebook to stop collecting personal data. Not at all. He’s merely asking them to change the defaults so that people have to actively change them if they want to participate fully in the Facebook community. The nice thing about this is that it also provides Facebook with a great incentive to make its privacy settings easy to use. If they were put in a position where users had to understand the settings and know where to find them before Facebook could collect any personal data—well, I think you’d be amazed at just how quickly they could design a really nice, simple user interface for privacy settings.

But of course Zuckerberg gave the usual response to a yes-or-now question: it’s a complex issue that requires more than a one-word answer. But it’s really not. Just turn off data collection by default. Then explain to users the benefits they get if they turn them on. Done.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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