Is Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg Really Sorry?

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Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg, the young founder and chief executive at Facebook, published an op-ed in the Washington Post today about his company's privacy policies, a bone of contention for those Facebook users who have been keeping a close eye on the issue. The piece contained phrases like: "Sometimes we move too fast — and after listening to recent concerns, we're responding," and: "Many of you thought our controls were too complex. 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." That sort of sounds like an apology, but critics were quick to point out that there wasn't an actual acknowledgment of any mistakes made by Facebook's chiefs. (Robert Cringely called it "an expert lesson in how to respond without actually responding and how to apologize without saying you're sorry.") In fact, there was even some disingenuous language built into the Zuckerberg piece:

We have also heard that some people don't understand how their personal information is used and worry that it is shared in ways they don't want. I'd like to clear that up now. Many people choose to make some of their information visible to everyone so people they know can find them on Facebook.

Those words in that order do, in fact, deliver a true statement. Many users do in fact choose to make their information public. But Facebook made that decision for them when the defaults changed over time, with users not even realizing that there is an incredibly complicated system of privacy settings they need to adjust to keep everyone from seeing everything on their profile. They didn't necessarily, as Zuckerberg implies, choose what information to make public.

Yesterday, Zuckerberg, in an e-mail to blogger Robert Scoble, actually acknowledged that his company had misstepped, policy-wise:

I know we’ve made a bunch of mistakes, but my hope at the end of this is that the service ends up in a better place and that people understand that our intentions are in the right place and we respond to the feedback from the people we serve.

So, still no apology, but a recognition of error! Does that suggest remorse? The Internet doesn't seem to think so. "Zuckerberg's 'we move too fast' suggests that he thinks Facebook was going in the right direction all along," writes the Washington Post's Rob Pegoraro. "If Facebook's new privacy interface doesn't affect such underlying issues as the Palo Alto, Calif., company's practice of altering settings unilaterally and then expecting users to opt out of those shifts afterward, not enough will have changed. We'll have the same trust problem as ever."

Gawker's Ryan Tate thinks that Zuckerberg is trying to make a larger problem with many tentacles (for example, the fact that Facebook violated its own privacy policy by sending advertisers information about users without consent) seem like something smaller and simpler, while simultaneously shifting the blame to users:

But along with user confusion at Facebook come some very real and very controversial decisions by the company on behalf of its users. For examples, user likes and interests, current city and hometown must now be publicly visible via a "connection." Your friend list and profile picture now are, according to Facebook's recently-revised privacy policy, now public information. To the concerns over this, Zuckerberg has nothing to say; if anything, he makes it sounds like users are just confused — that sounds familiar — and have as many protections as ever.

Chances are, most people don't care about this issue as much as tech-watchers do. After all, as Peter Kafka suspects: "Whether or not Facebook users say so out loud, they don’t actually expect anything they publish on a social network to be truly private. That’s why it’s called a social network, right?" But the criticism has been mounting, seemingly largely ignored, for a long time. For Zuckerberg to feel it necessary to put something about the issue — anything, even a non-apology — into print in a major national newspaper indicates something is finally getting through to Facebook brass.

Related: Do You Own Facebook? Or Does Facebook Own You? [NYM]