D8: Pressed on privacy issue, Facebook CEO defends controls
D8 co-hosts Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher didn't beat around the bush with Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, starting their interview by asking him about the social-networking site's controversial approaches to privacy.
Seattle Times staff columnist
RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. — D8 co-hosts Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher didn't beat around the bush with Facebook founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, starting their interview by asking him about the social-networking site's controversial approaches to privacy.
Zuckerberg said the settings grew too complex as the site added numerous features, each with its own privacy controls. But he said some have overblown the situation.
"There have been misperceptions that say we're trying to make all the information open or something like that," he said. "That's completely false."
Zuckerberg explained that Facebook recommends a tiered approach, sharing sensitive information only with friends, photos and video with friends of friends and the least sensitive information with the general public.
"You seem to have taken some steps to make more public my information as a Facebook member, on your own," Mossberg said.
Zuckerberg responded by noting that more than half of Facebook users have changed a privacy setting, evidence that people are aware of the controls the site offers.
"People are using them," he said, adding that "the majority of people who go through this aren't changing most of the settings."
"How do you explain the hubbub around it?" Swisher asked.
Zuckerberg responded by telling how the company went from something started in a college dorm room to a major phenomenon.
"I can't go back and change the past," he said. "I can only do what we think is the right thing going forward."
Zuckerberg sweated heavily during the interview, prompting Swisher to suggest he take off his hoodie sweat shirt. When he did, she held it up to show the Facebook mission statement printed inside, adding some levity to the situation.
In the interview, Zuckerberg's answers revealed as much about the generational and philosophical gap between the 26-year-old and the interviewers as it did about Facebook's plans and decision-making. At times it seemed like the conversation was taking place on two different planes.
Looking forward, Zuckerberg said he expects all sorts of websites and services will soon be linked and tailored to consumers' Web profiles and preferences. He describes this as "personalization" and says it's at the heart of privacy concerns that Mossberg and Swisher were highlighting.
"My prediction would be that a few years from now we'll look back and wonder why there ever was this time when all these websites ... weren't personalized," he said.
"I just think the world is moving in this direction, where things are going to be designed more around people, and that's going to be a really powerful direction," he said.
Swisher asked if Zuckerberg plans to be chief executive after Facebook goes public.
"Yeah," he said, smiling at the tricky question. "I don't think about going public ... much."
The first question from the audience came from RealNetworks founder Rob Glaser, who asked how Zuckerberg deals with the world looking at him differently after the phenomenal success he's had, having built one of the five most important Internet companies at such a young age.
"Maybe I'm in denial. I think our goals haven't really changed much at all. Inside the company we don't think of ourselves as a company that successful," he said.
Facebook is "a lot closer to the beginning than the end," he said.
"I guess as you get bigger, people expect you to slow down and do less crazy stuff," he said. "I guess I hope we never do that."
than another glimpse
Microsoft didn't provide any new details of its Xbox Project Natal control system at the D8: All Things Digital conference, beyond showing its latest hardware publicly.
Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher — and her enthusiastic son, Louie — tried the dodge-ball game that Microsoft has been using to demonstrate the system, in which a player's body movements control action on screen. At the end, Mossberg also triggered a feature that displays Polaroid-type snapshots taken of players as they play that can be shared.
Molly O'Donnell from the Xbox team first gave a technical demo, showing how the system tracks users' skeletons.
She declined to provide the product's final name or other details ahead of its launch at the E3 game conference in two weeks, saying that's when "the future of fun" will be revealed.
"The future of fun? Because that's what we think of when we think of Microsoft," Mossberg cracked.
The big surprise was that the chief executives and others attending the show — from Steve Jobs to Martha Stewart — all will be sent a free Project Natal controller when it goes on sale later this year.
"There's nothing rich people like better than free stuff," Mossberg said.
How tech history
may have been different
Another interesting bit of tech history that surfaced at the D8 conference: AOL co-founder Steve Case said his company considered buying Apple and putting Steve Jobs in charge, to help sort out its troubled merger with Time Warner.
At the time Apple's market value was only about $1 billion.
It was during an AOL board meeting in 2002, where "one suggestion was we acquire Apple and put Steve in charge," Case said during an interview with co-host Kara Swisher.
"There wasn't a lot of support for the idea," he said, explaining that at the time people had different perceptions of Jobs' company: "Apple was this Mac operating-system company with a 2 percent market share."
Now the moviegoers
can buy into that
The outrageous rise in movie-ticket prices is easing, according to DreamWorks Chief Executive Jeff Katzenberg.
During an interview with Walt Mossberg, Katzenberg said prices are leveling off at an average of $7.50 nationally and a $3.50 premium for 3D.
"It's probably hit a level that's going to plateau for a while," he said.
Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Brier Dudley
Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
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