As Product Management and PR Intertwine, Zuckerberg Promises Simpler Privacy Controls

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t said much publicly in the last few weeks. Many in the tech media have criticized Facebook for this, saying it reflects poorly on the company to not make Zuckerberg more available to respond to criticism in real time.

Today, during a week in which Facebook privacy is the cover story on Time’s print edition, Zuckerberg’s byline is beginning to appear in more public communications. He wrote a guest post in the Washington Post and a well-publicized message to blogger Robert Scoble, acknowledging that Facebook has made “mistakes,” but is going to try to improve its privacy controls by making them more simple.

“In the coming weeks, we will add privacy controls that are much simpler to use. We will also give you an easy way to turn off all third-party services,” Zuckerberg wrote in the Washington Post, not on the company’s own blog.

The last few weeks have certainly been a case study for any communications team, and Facebook has been trying to figure out how best balance talking about its product plans with the media cycle that often follows its product announcements. Although there is traditionally a period of sensationalism followed by a period of more thorough reflection, Facebook increased confusion this time around by combining many varied product announcements and changes at f8.

Migrating data on the info tab to “liked” Pages and making them public, announcing the Open Graph API and vision, announcing the Facebook “social plugins,” and announcing the initial Instant Personalization partners made it hard for people to understand which parts of Facebook’s product announcements included changes to the privacy model, and which did not. As a result, concern has become more protracted. Some of Facebook’s own changes were inherently confusing and debatable, such as the change to what user profile information is public. But critics sometimes haven’t fully understood which product or service they need to focus their energy on exactly, leading to even more confusion.

For now, the art of PR has become even more greatly intertwined with the art of product management – at least for Facebook’s privacy team – as Facebook continues to observe user behavior data across its platform and product portfolio and shape the product roadmap based on other inputs. It will be interesting to see exactly what the new privacy controls look like – especially for those that operate services on the Facebook Platform.

Zuckerberg has certainly gained a much bigger appreciation for the role of corporate communications over the past few years, but he still seems to prefer to let his thinking come through in the form of product changes instead of interviews. “I’d like to show an improved product rather than just talk about things we might do,” he wrote.