Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg Admits That Privacy Changes Have Been Confusing

By Justin Lafferty 

One of the chief complaints among Facebook users is that the changes to privacy controls have been far too confusing, with little effort in educating the users. Facebook’s No. 2 official — Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg — agrees. She admitted during a launch party in London for her book, Lean In, that one of the key mistakes the company has made was not explaining privacy controls better.

Sandberg addressed privacy concerns in Europe, which has resisted technology such as facial recognition in photo tagging. She admitted that there is a great divide between comfort levels from America to countries in Europe, namely Germany.

But she said that many people fear changes in Facebook’s privacy settings because it’s still a relatively new technology:

Our biggest mistake over the years was not one of violating privacy, but was one of complexity. There is this tension in privacy between control and ease of use. You can give people a lot of control and it is very complicated, or you can give people less control and it is easier to use. Facebook has historically given people tons of control, but then it was all on privacy pages with 40 things, and it was hard to understand … Every new technology is met with resistance and fear, often fear around privacy. My favorite example was caller ID. When caller ID was launched 30 years ago, people thought it was a privacy problem. In some U.S. states, they tried to ban it. They thought it was a violation of privacy to see who was calling you.

Sandberg also talked about how Facebook does understand Europeans’ privacy concerns:

I believe there is a perception and fear that because we are American, we don’t take privacy as seriously as Europeans do. We feel this most acutely in Germany. I have had someone there say to me, “You could never understand us” … My answer back was that we have hundreds of millions of users. If there is a single American who cares as much about privacy — just one — as someone in Germany, then we have to understand it.

Readers: Do you feel Facebook has gotten better about informing users about privacy changes?