A Conversation with Facebook's Chris Cox

Molly Wood talks to Facebook's vice president of product about privacy, selling data to advertisers, our differing opinions on the definition of opt-in, and of course, the Facebook movie.

Me, to Facebook VP of Product Chris Cox: "Are you selling personal data to advertisers?"

Chris Cox, to me: "No."

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I'll give credit to the guy: this wasn't an easy interview, and he's a much better spokesman for the site and its mission than Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg. He made it clear that the company heard the negative feedback on its recent privacy foibles loud and clear--and said they re-tasked their engineering teams to fix the privacy and sharing settings that were more byzantine than the U.S. Constitution.

And he unequivocally stated that Facebook is not, anonymously or otherwise, sharing personal data with advertisers, that they don't want to sell out users either by selling the company or filling the site with pop-ups and blink tags, and that they want to make it easy and straightforward for you to choose what data you share and don't share.

Then again, Cox's definition of having features on the site be "opt-in" is that they're all opt-in, in the sense that if you opt to post status updates or photos, you're choosing to play; and if you choose to play, you accept that future features might just share that information by default. In fact, I think you'll see from our exchange that Facebook's policy on opting you in to new features is still as carefully articulated as it ever was: we're going to do it, we're just going to try hard to make it more obvious that we're going to do it.

It's clear, though, that Cox is a true believer when he says he thinks Facebook "makes the Web better." The goal of the company, he said, is that building connections between people online makes not just visiting Facebook, but surfing the Web as a whole, more personal. He spoke passionately and convincingly about maintaining belief in the mission of Facebook and its goals. And I agree: the Web is a fun place to be when all your friends are there, too.

Of course, the thing to remember about true believers is that the mission comes first: do you trust Facebook simply because, as Cox put it, they're "trying to build a great product"? If not, he does give a nifty little tutorial in there on how exactly to delete your Facebook account.

 

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