Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Mark ‘Sorry’ Zuckerberg’s Beacon Memo: BoomTown Decodes It, So You Don’t Have To!

Yesterday, Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a major mea culpa blog post about the controversy around its Beacon ad product, which can track your purchases on some external sites and send the information back to your profile’s news feed.


As usual, BoomTown asked for the obligatory on-the-record interview with Zuckerberg (pictured above), but he still has not invited us over to get social at his social-networking HQ in Palo Alto, Calif. So while we’re waiting by the phone, we need to get busy.

Thus, we continue our thankless quest to decode all memos from Internet moguls (BoomTown speaks fluent Web 2.0 double talk).

(In October, we did this for Randy Falco’s memo about the AOL layoffs. And, back in late August, we also translated a memo from Yahoo President Sue Decker about its reorganization of management.)

So here’s my take on Mark’s take:

Mark wrote: Thoughts on Beacon

Translation: Facebook PR head Brandee Barker’s thoughts on Beacon, so Valleywag’s Owen Thomas will stop pestering her.

Mark wrote: About a month ago, we released a new feature called Beacon to try to help people share information with their friends about things they do on the Web. We’ve made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we’ve made even more with how we’ve handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it. While I am disappointed with our mistakes, we appreciate all the feedback we have received from our users. I’d like to discuss what we have learned and how we have improved Beacon.

Translation: I thought I was the CEO…b#*t#*, as my business card used to read, but it turns out maybe not so much. I would surely like to zombie-bite those annoying reporters, the whiny privacy advocates and those cut-and-run advertisers, who obviously don’t understand my $15 billion worth of genius. I wonder if I could find a way to blame the Winklevosses, who have the audacity to sue me for stealing their original social networking idea at Harvard!

Mark wrote: When we first thought of Beacon, our goal was to build a simple product to let people share information across sites with their friends. It had to be lightweight so it wouldn’t get in people’s way as they browsed the Web, but also clear enough so people would be able to easily control what they shared. We were excited about Beacon because we believe a lot of information people want to share isn’t on Facebook, and if we found the right balance, Beacon would give people an easy and controlled way to share more of that information with their friends.

Translation: When we first thought of Beacon, we thought it would make bank to backfill that kooky valuation, so Steve Ballmer would stop texting me “Where’s the beef, dude?” hourly. By lightweight, we meant we were actually thinking of a sneaky way of tricking users into becoming digital billboards without realizing it. By easy and controlled, we meant an easy way to control their brains into thinking this was a good thing.

Mark wrote: But we missed the right balance. At first we tried to make it very lightweight so people wouldn’t have to touch it for it to work. The problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends. It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share. Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I’m not proud of the way we’ve handled this situation and I know we can do better.

Translation: But we lost our balance sitting on the big pile of money we got from Microsoft and that richer-than-rich Asian billionaire. To repeat: Lightweight=sneaky. Since most of our users are too busy popping each others zits or sending digital teddy bears or being cartoonified, we were shocked that they were actually paying attention to our efforts to milk their interests in, say, mountain biking or spelunking, as if they were cows and we were Old MacDonald. E-I-E-I-Oops.

Mark wrote: Facebook has succeeded so far in part because it gives people control over what and how they share information. This is what makes Facebook a good utility, and in order to be a good feature, Beacon also needs to do the same. People need to be able to explicitly choose what they share, and they need to be able to turn Beacon off completely if they don’t want to use it.

Translation: Facebook has succeeded so far, in part because people are simultaneously natural stalkers and shameless exhibitionists. So we thought they’d jump at the chance to tell all their friends they had bought, say, a year’s supply of Viagra or downloaded songs from Air Supply or ordered several pairs of Spanx.

Mark wrote: This has been the philosophy behind our recent changes. Last week we changed Beacon to be an opt-in system, and today we’re releasing a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely. You can find it here. If you select that you don’t want to share some Beacon actions or if you turn off Beacon, then Facebook won’t store those actions even when partners send them to Facebook.

Translation: Philosophy? All those Harvard philosophy majors now work for me in customer service. Opt-in, opt-out. If we say it fast over and over again, users will hopefully get really dazed and confused and just lay down and accept their ultimate fate as target practice for marketers. More to the point, I just said we will still receive information on all your purchases and I hope you did not notice that. Opt-in-opt-out-opt-in-opt-out-opt-in-opt-out. Are you getting sleepy yet?

Mark wrote: On behalf of everyone working at Facebook, I want to thank you for your feedback on Beacon over the past several weeks and hope that this new privacy control addresses any remaining issues we’ve heard about from you.

Translation: And we have made it extra special confusing to change your Beacon settings, because of all the whining from you teeny brains, which is really annoying to us big brains here at Facebook. To get back at you, we’re hard at work thinking up all sorts of new privacy violations you’ll never be able to understand!

Mark wrote: Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Translation: You may return to your regularly scheduled SuperPoking.

Mark wrote: Mark

Translation: Beacon fiasco aside, I’m still the CEO b#*#*, no matter how many times Swisher mocks my flip-flops.