When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described a litany of new privacy features last week, he told reporters that the recent firestorm over how the company collected and uses hadn’t resulted in any mass defection of its users.
The experience of the movement organized to abandon the world’s biggest social network would seem to bear that out.
Frustrated with both Facebook’s privacy policies and the company’s seeming opposition to many hallmarks of the open Web, a pair of technologists from Toronto set up an online petition and declared May 31 “Quit Facebook Day.”
With the big day now come and gone, the movement secured commitments of 34,434 Facebook users to delete their accounts.
It’s not a small number on its face, but with Facebook’s total global membership steaming toward 500 million unique users, it stands at less than one ten-thousandth of 1 percent of the community.
The organizers of Quit Facebook Day, Joseph Dee and Matthew Milan, acknowledged that they were fighting an uphill battle.
“Quitting Facebook isn’t easy,” they wrote on their website. “Facebook is engaging, enjoyable and quite frankly, addictive. Quitting something like Facebook is like quitting smoking.”
Dee and Milan echoed the complaints of many Facebook users that recent changes to the site’s settings seemed to chip away at privacy on the site, while the granular controls the company offered had become excessively complex.
Zuckerberg admitted as much last week when he announced a new set of features and controls that offered a dramatically simpler approach to limiting how much information on the site is shared with other Facebook users and third-party sites.
Those changes went a long way toward addressing the pointed criticism of the company and its privacy policies, but Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook and the delicate balance of making the Web a more social place without trampling on people’s expectations of privacy remain a work in progress.
“Facebook is not a solved problem. There’s so much more that we have to do,” he said.
One of the items still lingering on Facebook’s to-do list is to address the ongoing concerns government officials have expressed about its privacy practices and the broader data-collection activities of Internet companies.
On Friday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) sent a letter to Zuckerberg asking for “a detailed explanation of the information about Facebook users that your company has provided to third parties without the knowledge of the account holders.”
The same day, Conyers sent a letter to Google (NADSAQ: GOOG) CEO Eric Schmidt asking the company to retain the Internet traffic contents its Street View cars inadvertently collected from unsecured Wi-Fi networks until federal and state inquiries are concluded.
With those inquiries, Conyers echoed the concerns of other lawmakers who have opened inquiries into Faecbook’s privacy controls and Google’s Street View mishap. Both companies have said that they are working with the members and their staffs to resolve the issues.