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Mark Zuckerberg on Privacy and the Future of Facebook News Feeds

Amidst the incredible hoopla surround the Mark Zuckerberg keynote at this year’s SXSW (see Underwire’s earlier coverage) there’s been on key missing element — what Zuckerberg said.

Getting Zuckerberg to talk in anything but pre-scripted sound bites is notoriously difficult job, but he actually did answer a number of questions at a SXSW developer breakout session. In the video above, shot by Matt Browne, Zuckerberg addresses two of the hottest and most contested issues on the web today — data portability and privacy.

Zuckerberg argues that Facebook provides something the larger web doesn’t — an undo button — which he feels is more important than data portability.

Zuckerberg says that while Facebook is “philosophically aligned with data portability,” the company is also concerned with the privacy issues that surround opening up Facebook to the larger world.

The example he offers is the Facebook news feed. As it stands if you publish something to your news feed and then decide that you want to limit who can see it by changing the privacy settings, that information is removed from your friend’s updates (assuming they no longer have the privileges necessary to access it).

However, were the Facebook news feed offered as an RSS feed available outside Facebook (as we’ve often argued it should be), it would, because of the nature of RSS, no longer be retractable. Even if you changed the privacy settings and removed it from the feed, many RSS readers would already have cached or otherwise stored the post you’d like to retract.

In some sense that’s the nature of the larger web — once something is out, there’s no taking it back. Many would argue that this is exactly why you should think before you post, but that’s precisely why Facebook is so popular, it offers the kind of tight privacy controls that allow users to recover from hasty publishing decisions. Facebook is providing something that the web lacks — an undo button (taking a broader view of privacy, Facebook’s record a la Beacon may not be so hot, but when it comes to controlling who sees what and allowing you to change your mind, the site is admittedly quite good).

As anyone whose ever regretted a drunken or otherwise accidental e-mail can attest, an undo button would be a handy thing to have.

The question is what do you value more: the ability to access your data outside any single silo like Facebook, or the ability to control who sees what, and even more importantly, change your mind later?

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