The genius of the social networking site Facebook is the way it makes a worldwide information marketplace look cozy.

People get on the site to share intimate details of their lives with their “friends,” who might include a future boss or the manufacturer of a diet supplement.

People go onto the for-profit website, willfully exposing themselves to untold eyeballs, while believing that they maintain privacy.

But as Facebook’s owners have discovered, many of the website’s users demand that they have real-life privacy, not just the virtual kind, when they use the service.

Facebook, which has nearly 500 million users around the world, loosened up its privacy standards last year, making it easier for advertisers to find out more about their potential customers. The company created controls that let users limit the way their information was used, but many found the 150-option controls too complicated and difficult to use. This week Facebook has responded with new privacy controls that are easier to operate. Privacy advocates and angry Facebook customers say they are pleased.

Facebook is in a bind that is one of many new things that the Internet has brought us. It has never pretended to be anything other than a business that provides a service to users for free as a vehicle to sell advertising.

But it has been so successful at creating an atmosphere of intimacy that users have come to expect it to be a private place.

In the marketplace, successful companies meet customer expectations, even if they demand that virtual privacy become the real thing.

 


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