Facebook CTO Bret Taylor on privacy, security and social networking

Attention to privacy on Facebook has been intense in recent months after the company made more profile information public by default, added options to its already-complicated privacy settings and introduced features to personalise external websites using people’s profile information.

The company responded last week by launching a simplified privacy dashboard, restoring the ability to hide some public profile data and giving users an “off” switch to block all third-party Web sites and applications from accessing their accounts.

Now that the dust has largely settled, IDG News Service had a chance to chat with Facebook chief technology officer Bret Taylor about the latest privacy controversies and Facebook’s reaction. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

IDG News Service: There has been an intense focus on Facebook privacy recently, but protecting one’s privacy online must be a broader endeavour. What’s a holistic view of the online privacy problem, in your opinion?

Bret Taylor: One thing, was lost in dialogue to some of our changes last week is that Facebook is a service primarily through sharing. Many people on the ground to share with their friends. The reason you publish a photo on Facebook that is contrary to save on your hard disk because you give your comments to and see friends and they want. Facebook is not primarily a service of backing up your data, but to use your data to make users sharing the information know sure that.

Privacy on Facebook and privacy on the Internet are very different things because obviously, if your bank mentioned privacy it means something quite different than when mentioned Facebook privacy. When we talk about privacy on Facebook we really talk about, how can you know that when you publish a photo it can see only your friends and extended network. Even when you can look your best friend from primary school level that he can figure out whether [that's], which is a very important part of our service. So balancing the private aspects of sharing with discovery and this massive directory of everyone in the world, Facebook is also very useful for are just some of the problems that we, very different are the other Internet services do have.

IDGNS: Privacy advocates want Facebook to set more conservative default settings for sharing and to leave it up to users to pro-actively opt into and enable broader sharing of their information. How do you strike a balance between those concerns and the risk of hurting Facebook’s social-networking nature, which is to help people find other people and interact with them?

Taylor: This balance is internal something we talk much. Of course you need some degree of Exchange, since you unable otherwise, new human friend, because it not your friends. What we have tried our privacy by default reflect the standards of use on our site. Obviously the defaults are extremely easy not perfect for all, so we try to change these guidelines, which is what was our launch last week about. Most people have changed their privacy settings at one time or another.

IDGNS: Many privacy concerns centre on Facebook users’ confusion about what and how information is being shared. Have you considered providing users with anonymised usage analytics for their profiles, so that they can see, say, that this photo was viewed by five friends, seven friends of friends and three people not connected to them in any way? The idea being that people get a concrete picture of how their content is being viewed and that they can adjust privacy settings based on that concrete knowledge if necessary.

Taylor: It’s an interesting idea. I’m not sure if it’s something we’ve considered.

IDGNS: Some people say Facebook search goes too far in making site data discoverable, while others complain that it doesn’t go far enough. What’s the right balance for the search function on Facebook?

Taylor: The primary use of Facebook search people. The thing much of the technology community has focused user of the Facebook stream. But on Facebook, the main purpose of the search window is people. Is a Facebook search, by default it is personalized, you all can search your friends updates. It is a very unique and personal experience of a lot of content that is very personal, such as status updates and photos.

Search via status updates with [public] “everyone” setting was received very well by our users but we have not invested tons of effort into it, because we have on other areas of the site up to date been focused. We have listen to any feedback as we suspended the APIs [application programming interfaces], but I don’t think that we disclose to no concrete plans at this point.

IDGNS: Regarding your “everyone” privacy setting, which makes content available to everyone on and off Facebook, what happens when someone whose profile is set to “friends only” interacts with a friend whose profile is set to “everyone”? Whose privacy settings govern those interactions, if, say, the “everyone” friend comments on a photo of the other “friends only” person?

Taylor: Comments inherit the privacy of the object on which you comment. So if I comment on a post that’s set to “everyone” then my comment is also viewable by everyone.

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