Social networking giant Facebook has a history of backtracking. On numerous occasions, the company has made an important move - especially with regard to user privacy - only to reverse its course after a public outcry. This isn't surprising, given Facebook's shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later approach to making strategic changes to its service.

In an interview at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged that he has made a lot of mistakes with his company over the years. In response to a question from the audience about being a young entrepreneur, Zuckerberg said: "Oh man, I've made so many mistakes running a company so far. If you can think of a mistake, I've probably made it or will in the next few years.

"The Facebook story is an example of if you're building a product that people love, you can make a lot of mistakes."

It seems, though, that even when Facebook is forced to back down, it rarely backs down completely. The net result is that, almost every time, a little more of our data at Facebook is made 'public'.

Here's a brief history of Facebook's most notable flips and flops. Let's start in 2011 and work our way back.

Giving it up to developers

Flip: You know that screen that pops up the first time you play a game like FarmVille? The one that asks you if it's okay to give some of your personal data to the developer? Facebook announced on January 14 that it would be giving its developer partners the right to capture your home address and mobile phone number if you say yes at the bottom of that permissions box. The same permissions window pops up when you use your Facebook ID to log into a third-party website for the first time, so Facebook's many Facebook ID partners could have a shot at the data, too.

Flop: After hearing complaints, Facebook reversed its decision to serve up home addresses and phone numbers to developers and partner sites. "Over the weekend, we got some useful feedback that we could make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to [their home address and mobile phone number]," Facebook said in a blog on January 17. "We agree, and we are making changes to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so... We look forward to re-enabling this improved feature in the next few weeks."

Jousting with the Germans

Flip: In August 2010, Hamburg's Data Collection Authority questioned Facebook's use of the email addresses of non-Facebook users who were invited to join the site as part of Facebook's Friend Finder feature. Not only did those people not know how Facebook got their email addresses, but it was unclear how Facebook would use the addresses once they were in the Facebook servers. Would Facebook hand them over to partners? Or would it just continue to pester the owners of the email addresses to join Facebook?

Flop: Facebook reached an agreement on January 25 with Germany in which it backed off - somewhat. Facebook said that it would give the non-Facebook users a chance to opt out of further invitations to join Facebook. The company also said that it would explain to the owners of the email addresses why they were being contacted. Facebook did not agree to stop capturing and keeping the email addresses, however, and it became clear that Germany would have to sue to make that happen.

NEXT PAGE: Still more data made public

  1. Hasty moves by the social network
  2. Still more data made public
  3. The Beacon blunder
  4. Memorial sites