Thursday, April 29, 2010

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Believe In Privacy? Really? Nicky Bilton dishes the dirt?

Eliot Van Buskirk on April 28, 2010 dishes more:

[re Nicky Bilton the digital snot snob at NYTimes bits blog who hates paper and loves screening and who does not return emails either....]

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears to have been outed as not caring one whit about your privacy — a jarring admission, considering how much of our personal data Facebook owns, not to mention its plans to become the web’s central repository for our preferences and predilections.

Also interesting is how this came about: Not in a proper article, but in a tweet by Nick Bilton, lead technology blogger for the The New York Times‘ Bits Blog, based on a conversation he says was “off the record” and which he may have confused with “not for attribution.”

“Off record chat w/ Facebook employee,” begins Bilton’s fateful tweet. “Me: How does Zuck feel about privacy? Response: [laughter] He doesn’t believe in it.”


Zuckerberg’s apparent disregard for your privacy is probably not reason enough to delete your Facebook account. But we wouldn’t recommend posting anything there that you wouldn’t want marketers, legal authorities, governments (or your mother) to see, especially as Facebook continues to push more and more of users’ information public and even into the hands of other companies, leaving the onus on users to figure out its Rubik’s Cube-esque privacy controls.

Facebook has been on a relentless request over the past six months to become the center of identity and connections online. The site unilaterally decided last December that much of a user’s profile information, including the names of all their friends and the things they were “fans” of, would be public information — no exceptions or opt-outs allowed.

Zuckerberg defended the change — largely intended to keep up with the publicness of Twitter, saying that people’s notions of privacy were changing. He took no responsibility for being the one to drag many Facebook users into the net’s public sphere.

Then last week at its f8 conference, Facebook announced it was sending user profile information in bulk to companies like Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft. Thus, when users show up at those sites while logged in to Facebook, they see personalized versions of the those services (unless the user opts out of each site, somewhere deep in the bowels of Facebook’s privacy control center). On Tuesday, four Senators asked the company to only push data to third-parties if users agree to it, a so-called “opt-in” that social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Google Buzz eschew since it radically cuts down on participation and thus revenues.

Facebook is also pushing a “Like” button, which lets sites put little Facebook buttons on anything from blog entries to T-shirts in web stores.

Clicking that button sends that information to Facebook, which publishes it as part of what it calls the Open Graph, linking your identity to things you choose online. That information, in turn, is shared with whatever sites Facebook chooses to share it with — and to the sites you’ve allowed to access your profile.

It’s an ambitious attempt to rewrite the web as a socially linked network. But many see Facebook’s move as trying to colonize the rest of the web, and keep all this valuable information in its data silos, in order to become a force on the web that rivals Google.

So it’s no laughing matter that the head of Facebook appears not to care about privacy. (We asked Facebook to clarify Zuckerberg’s privacy stance but have yet to hear back.)

For his part, Bilton fired off a number of salvos defending his understanding of the the ground rules which governed the conversation he had. “‘Off record’ means there is no attribution to who it is but conversation can be used in story. ‘On background’ means I can not repeat it,” wrote Bilton. He took over the Times‘ technology blog in the last few months, after a long stint working with its technology-development team.

Unfortunately, he’s wrong about the definitions.

“‘Off the record’ restricts the reporter from using the information the source is about to deliver,” reads NYU’s Journalism Handbook, in one definition of the phrase. “If the reporter can confirm the information with another source who doesn’t insist on speaking off the record (whether that means he agreed to talking on the record, on background, or not for attribution), he can publish it.” “On background” usually means that information can be used, but can’t be attributed to a specific person.

Bilton later responded to our request for clarification, saying, “My source said it was OK to quote them, just not say who they are.” So apparently, this Facebook employee wanted this information to get out, for whatever reason.

Now, the die has been cast: The world knows that a Facebook employee thinks his CEO “doesn’t believe in” privacy, which should scare the bejesus out of anyone with a Facebook account — and that encompasses just about everyone reading this now.

=============== comments

Not only does Facebook not believe in privacy, they’re social network is littered with too many hackers! What a bad combination! My friends are getting e-mail advertisement spams supposedly coming from me. Now I’ve changed my password and told my friends not to open any links or attachments coming from me through Facebook. Facebook is not safe for holding any of your personal information; hackers apparently have ways to get into your account easy.

Posted by: ericmedlock | 04/28/10 | 2:19 pm |
ok, so here’s an idea. Don’t put non-private information into a system you don’t control. Common sense people. Why is this such a shocker… omg, a corporate big wig is going to use information you give him for free to make money… Whoa! Whoda thunk it? (anyone with 10% of a brain, that’s who)

Posted by: smartphonedev | 04/28/10 | 2:44 pm |
I think you meant to say non-public information. It’s a shocker because millions of members have the perception that their information is safe and protected. Just look at all of your friends who use their real full names on Facebook! Your full name, hacking into your account, following up with more data mining, and monitoring and reading your communication threads through out your social network is all one needs to get a good opportunity to acquire your non-public information even if you don’t give it to the corporate big wig.

Posted by: lolbrandon | 04/28/10 | 3:35 pm |
Well, I don’t have a facebook account anymore. I deleted mine before a lot of these privacy concerns really took off, and I deleted it because I didn’t see a need for it. However, in contrast to @ericmedlock’s statement, I think many people EXPECT a company to keep their data secret. I’d like to ask @ericmedlock, if he’s following up in the comments, if he expects his email provider to keep his email secret, or if he expects his bank or credit card company to keep his financials secret. Does he use a service like, and does he expect mint to keep his data secret, or give it out to every marketing company on the planet. “Meet Eric: His SS# is XXX-XX-XXXX. He makes $XX,XXX annually. He has X credit cards with XXXX dollars balance and an XX.X% APR. Last week he rented Twilight from Netflix and kept it 4 days. His most recent email was to his mom, which said, in part……”
Frankly, I expect that information to be kept secret, and I think it’s illegal for these companies to reveal much of that information. I think it should be equally illegal for Facebook to reveal information that the end user hasn’t explicitly said, “Yeah, go ahead, I don’t mind sharing my video rentals with the world.”
I don’t normally like seeing governments get involved in private business, but when a company has so much personal data, and so many people expect it to remain personal, I think there should be laws protecting that information.
See , about the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 (18 U.S.C. § 2710). It’s suddenly very relevant here.

Posted by: dnynumberone | 04/28/10 | 3:48 pm |
Is this to imply Wired/Conde Nast give a damn about privacy? Here’s a question for ya -

Why is it, when I’m not logged into facebook or, and have all of my privacy/do not share info settings on facebook on maximum, two of my friends constantly show up in the “Become a Fan on Facebook” area of the page? Every article. Before logging in.

So either Facebook long ago gave you information about me, despite my privacy settings being on maximum. Or is browsing my cookies, discovering my facebook account, and tracking down my friends?

Either answer is unacceptable. Either answer breaks the privacy settings that I supposedly enabled. And now I will no longer visit facebook AND

Posted by: defaultuser1 | 04/28/10 | 4:11 pm |
Well this is no surprise. I will relish the day Facebook falls.

Posted by: PeterBrady | 04/28/10 | 4:20 pm |
I’m still keeping all the photos of my nards on my Facebook page.

Posted by: TheLandShark | 04/28/10 | 4:35 pm |
But the guy said that until facebook had a 1.21 jillions of users and not at the beginning.

To me, seems a lot like entrapment.

Posted by: deckard68 | 04/28/10 | 4:39 pm |
Robert Heinlein famously refused to show his driver’s license when checking in to a hotel, and storming off instead.

So maybe it is a generational thing. All these notions that we live super-secret lives is becoming passe.

Posted by: MrBungNugget | 04/28/10 | 4:42 pm |
i don’t post anything anywhere that i consider to be sensitive information. period. not even on my own web server. people who put their sensitive data into a database owned and operated by someone else gets what they deserve.

Posted by: randomw | 04/28/10 | 4:42 pm |
I was at the F8 conference and Facebook’s vision for a better Internet/world is when everybody can find out everything about everybody. They don’t actually say that Privacy is bad. They are just fighting for a world without Privacy.

Posted by: mayssm | 04/28/10 | 4:43 pm |
Whew, glad I’ve never created a Facebook account.

Posted by: Navi1101 | 04/28/10 | 4:47 pm |
Tweeting parts of a conversation presumably held in confidence? Who doesn’t believe in privacy, now?

Posted by: tbradshaw | 04/28/10 | 4:47 pm |

Actually, both of your scenarios are incorrect and the right answer is behind door number 3. That little box is actually rendered by and not by at all. Your information isn’t being shared with anyone, facebook is rendering to you the information relevant to you (without sharing it with and wired is handling the rest of the page.

But, that’s how it goes, I guess. All of the controversy surrounding privacy concerns and social networking come from one of two camps: 1) smart people that really understand things and value privacy greatly but hate that other people don’t care about privacy like they do, 2) people that don’t quite understand how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together and are scared by the horror stories shared by group (1).

Posted by: Navi1101 | 04/28/10 | 4:52 pm |
@Navi1101 (myself): Heheh, maybe I should finish the article before commenting on it. ^^; Move along; nothing to see here…

Posted by: Jakelalens | 04/28/10 | 5:01 pm |
So glad I deleted my account months ago. Don’t know why so many people still use this site? There are others.

Posted by: really_crazy2 | 04/28/10 | 5:05 pm |
If he doesn’t believe in privacy, then where are the photo’s of him walking around nude? And where does he live? Home phone number? Office Number? Nude pictures of girl/boyfriend?

Posted by: anthony_a | 04/28/10 | 5:31 pm |
dnynumberone & tbradshaw

try door number 4. facebook knows your approximate location based on your IP address; do a traceroute to say,, and you will see that you will eventually bounce through a router with a location in it. with this information, facebook (and advertisers) can deliver content (or in this case, people who live within close proximity to you) that you are more likely to click on.

Posted by: ericmedlock | 04/28/10 | 5:37 pm |
@lolbrandon I have no expectation of privacy on the internet. I guess that comes from being a computer professional and knowing how unbelievably easy it is for a bad apple to get access to your data. Is it that I expect a company to treat my data as confidential, sort of, do I anticipate that every single individual in the world that can somehow get access to my data will treat it with the same regard? Never. So, I act defensively and proactively in protecting my own privacy, when it matters, and I do not expect others to do it for me… if for no other reason than at the end of the day they will not be even slightly inconvienced if my data is made public, but I will be, thus its my responsibility… because I care about it and frankly they have no incentive to care about it as much as I do.

Posted by: aardman | 04/28/10 | 5:40 pm |
I’ve always believed that Facebook is an ethically challenged company whose top officers are governed not by what is wrong or right but by what they can or cannot get away with. I consider this company to be in the same category as Philip Morris, Halliburton, & Goldman Sachs.

Posted by: damuddy | 04/28/10 | 5:44 pm |
i’ve been trying to delete my facebook for about 5 months now. Apparently they’re still keeping it in case I “change my mind”. They have all my information waiting for me to return. I went back and tried to delete all of the stuff that I left on my page (photos, notes, messages, etc.). It seemed to have worked, except whenever I type my name into google, my facebook profile still comes up. GOD DAMMIT.

Posted by: jerry36 | 04/28/10 | 5:45 pm |
Zuckerberg is right and that’s why Facebook is the home of thugs as well.

Posted by: HansGrueber | 04/28/10 | 5:52 pm |
Fail Facebook. Please. For the betterment of society, FAIL.

Posted by: dnynumberone | 04/28/10 | 5:54 pm |
@tbradshaw - ok, here’s the problem with your door #3. i’m not logged into facebook when this occurs. i have my privacy settings set to “do not share information with advertisers/third party people.” which i stated before, but it bears repeating here.

because, not being logged onto facebook, and not sharing my public information, how does the wired facebook ad know which people are friends of mine (who are also fans of wired) and to include them in the ad? if it’s purely facebook generated, and receiving no information from wired at all, and i’m not logged onto facebook - how does the ad know who my friends are? i’ve even gone so far as removing all cookies and still my friends show up in the ad. (and it’s not the occasional friend the occasional ad, it’s the same 2 friends every single ad. so it’s not randomness causing it.)

Posted by: svanneck | 04/28/10 | 5:55 pm |
Hey Mark, since you don’t believe in privacy, please let us know how to geolocate you 24 hours a day so we can come and talk to you in person about online privacy.

Posted by: fgoodwin | 04/28/10 | 5:58 pm |
@all: The anonymous “source” could work in the FB mailroom for all we know — why should anyone believe his statement about Zuckerberg is anything more than some clown’s opinion?

@Eliot Van Buskirk: you built an entire article around Bilton’s tweet and you close it with a quibble about definitions? That’s about as lame as a spelling or grammar flame on USENET . . .

Posted by: JeromeWest | 04/28/10 | 6:05 pm |
@Eliot - I’m intrigued by the definitions at the end of the article. If “‘on background’ usually means that information can be used, but can’t be attributed to a specific person”, then what exactly does “not for attribution” mean?

Posted by: warehouseman | 04/28/10 | 6:07 pm |
I don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account for reasons such as this. I read in the business press of employers wanting to be a “Facebook friend” only to snoop on the employees. Perhaps Zuckerberg would not mind the government starting up “Carnivore” again or maybe some moles in his executive offices. It was a program by the FBI and the National Security Agency to gather business intelligence. That kind of technology is too good not to be used. The possibilities are endless. I’m sure Zuckerman can think of a few uses for Carnivore that he won’t have a problem with. But then with his attitude he should be able to accept the government data mining HIM. Be interesting to see what that would reveal. There’s an old Russian joke that’s a takeoff of a cell phone ad. It’s two pictures. The first one shows a customer on a cell phone and it says, “People talk. We listen”. The second shows someone wearing a jacket that says “FSB” (successor to the KGB). If the government gets the goods on a company through wiretaps, I won’t feel sorry for them. One thing I like about Russian websites–anything unflattering is on there to stay forever and some of them go back for years.
There are plenty of laws–there’s almost never any ENFORCEMENT to them unless its easy pickings. Also look up Facebook and Twitter on business publication sites–see what you come up with. I follow the business press as best I can and it saves me a lot of trouble.

Posted by: Elmeng2007 | 04/28/10 | 6:10 pm |
All this stuff about privacy and Facebook is really fascinating, really. Uh, learn how to keep your wife or somebody else’s. Read the new E-book “How to Seduce A Married Woman.” Enjoy! And now back to Facebook and privacy stuff. Zzz

Posted by: Curly | 04/28/10 | 6:50 pm |
If you don’t like the privacy on Facebook then find one you like and join it and quit Facebook.

Posted by: jbrave | 04/28/10 | 7:07 pm |
Doesn’t off the record mean off the record? How can anyone trust your word as a journalist if you agree that something is off the record and then print it? I’m guessing that this means that as a Journalist, you don’t respect privacy either!

Posted by: mayalibre | 04/28/10 | 7:17 pm |
Really, it is worse than this article. Facebook is now aggregating every word we type, in statuses, posts, links, or comments, and re-broadcasting them all publicly on the World Wide Web by feeding them into “community pages” that are visible to everyone. Even if our personal privacy settings are Only Friends, or Friends of Friends, our words are fed to the public if we use any of a number of key words, which we don’t know, and there’s no opt out. Check out the list of these various community pages yourself:
I spent last night testing several of them, and it’s true. My private posts, intended to be seen only by friends and friends of friends, are instantly fed to the public if I write any of these words, and others, in a status or comment, or if the word is in the link or the link’s subtext. Facebook is completely misrepresenting its concern for our privacy and violating its own privacy policy, which is fraud.

Posted by: Yosho | 04/28/10 | 7:19 pm |
I call on every script kiddie on 4chan, legitimate hacker and security experts to break into Zuckerburg’s personal records and see how much of a fan he is of privacy afterwards.

Posted by: mayalibre | 04/28/10 | 7:21 pm |
The point is not what level of privacy Facebook has, but the fact that they MISREPRESENT their privacy features. We are told that we have control over what gets seen and what doesn’t, but now everything we do on Facebook is visible to the general public and we have no control at all. If I had known from the beginning that the site would be public, it would be one thing. But to LIE to users is wrong. I looked at their privacy policy again today and it still says our information is safe, when it is clearly being broadcast publicly on the world wide web without our consent. MISREPRESENTATION and FRAUD are the issues.

Posted by: technophile | 04/28/10 | 8:03 pm |
How is this a surprise to anyone?

Posted by: rhoadie | 04/28/10 | 9:00 pm |
Internet privacy? Huh? Are you folks serious?

(paused for laugh track…)

After headline coverage of data thefts at government facilities, financial institutions, social networking sites, online retailers, military bases, and celebrity email accounts, the idea that anyone with a brain expects anything they do online to be a secret is absurd.

If you don’t want something known, don’t publish it. If you can’t resist participating in public forums, accept as a reality that anything you type may well be attributed to your real name at some point in the future.

Any determined person with a brain, a few social skills, and the time to invest can locate just about anyone who posts on several different sites, given a few clues as to the location of the poster. The true knee-jerk reactionary with keyboard diarrhea is the easiest, by far. They generally give away quite a bit more information about themselves than they realize.

It’s a good reason to self-edit before posting, and to keep it civil. You never really know who you might flame, or who they might know. For instance, I personally know of one case where a forum member knew one of the admins at a large ISP, and managed to get a guy’s email address from a completely different website. A letter to the admin with a link to the forum caused the Troll to lose his account under the ISP’s prohibition on using the service to “threaten or harass any person or persons by use of the service.”

Posted by: moofi | 04/28/10 | 9:05 pm |
remember kids. just because you opt-out, doesn’t mean your friends can’t still use some of your information. remember to also check off all of the info you don’t want you friends to share with 3rd party websites. except for the general info - you apparently have little control over that.

from fb application privacy settings page:
“If your friend uses an application that you do not use, you can control what types of information the application can access. Please note that applications will always be able to access your publicly available information (Name, Profile Picture, Gender, Current City, Networks, Friend List, and Pages) and information that is visible to Everyone.”

Posted by: Nym | 04/28/10 | 10:28 pm |
They’re also extremely deceptive about privacy choices, and attempt to create new material designed to trick users into making changes to prior decisions.

Posted by: Nym | 04/28/10 | 10:32 pm |
And my prior comment was made while blocking 9 trackers & 13 cross site requests, so the real message is the more links the less trust.

Posted by: albion06 | 04/28/10 | 11:06 pm |
@deckard68: It is a generational thing, the kids (teens, and 20 somethings) don’t care about privacy. They’re in denial about bad people using all that collected information. I grew up during the cold war. The Stazi and what they did to the East German people is still burned into my brain.

The younger generations biggest mistake is to assume that Facebook is an entitlement. What’s in vogue has become necessary to remain in vogue, right? They can simply make the decision to leave vogue behind. Account deletion comes to mind. But, unfortunately they won’t. The loss of popularity won’t allow it. How would they know what their friends are doing? What’s scary is that their willingness to be interconnected 24/7 reminds me of the Borg from Star Trek TNG.

There are even times where I question my own ability to live without a cell phone. The world has changed. Now I can understand how my grandparents felt when my generation took over. A bikini? OMG!

Posted by: flassh81 | 04/28/10 | 11:19 pm |
As far as I know, you can’t DELETE an account. It just gets DEACTIVATED. I have tried sending messages numerous times to permanently remove an account I no longer use and made folks get confused. Dislike it.

Posted by: LorM | 04/28/10 | 11:22 pm |
I heard someone say”Quite frankly, most things we ‘like’ don’t really need to be private.” That is the fallacy here!!! employers look at these and if they see you liking a particular political group, or having particular interests that are not like boring geek white bread or average MOR joe interests, their will be bias, c’mon! I liked FB because I could express myself and what I liked to my friends. Now I cannot and they cannot.

Posted by: Immaginazione | 04/29/10 | 7:03 am |
@lolbrandon if you have read any public/free service terms and conditions you will come across one common thread, which will say something like “all the data/information exchanged via said service is property of that service”. Free email service providers have at some point or the other stated they will use the information they acquire about you to send you targeted marketing.

If a bank/paid email service, etc… were to share any of your information then you would be able to take it further, but then you will have to prove the shared data source is the bank/paid email service provider etc….

Posted by: kenbo0422 | 04/29/10 | 9:28 am |
How about an alternative to Facebook? Surely someone could come up with a plan and implement it that DOESN’T put you out there like Facebook does. A privacy control center that is totally ‘up front’ and your defaults are that you MUST opt in rather than opt out is what is needed (and wanted), and personal pages that include web page advertising styles without the use of spyware cookies, etc, that target your web activities. So, you think it can’t be done? Think again.

Posted by: maustingraphics | 04/29/10 | 10:09 am |
Of-course He doesn’t. He stole the face book platform so in my mind his intentions will always be selfish and that why face book should die… or be acquired by some one who cares about the community they created and not just personal gain… He is a little #%@^&

Posted by: cherot | 04/29/10 | 11:24 am |
I would never post anything on any web site that I didn’t want marketers, legal authorities, the government or especially my mother to see. No matter what policy the site adopts your privacy is only as strong as the least trustworthy of your “friends.”

Posted by: Gnostic | 04/29/10 | 11:30 am |
I am sometimes surprised by the amount of information others have posted about me on the internet. It’s very disturbing and I have no control over their actions. Most are work related. I also avoid social networking sites and limit my commentard activities to those sites that give me some anonymity. I do, also, use search engine proxies whenever I can but my IP and MAC addresses can be hard to mask.

Posted by: MsJoanne | 04/29/10 | 11:37 am |
I have both Facebook and Twitter accounts and see little purpose in either. My Facebook stream includes 10,000 Farmville updates about lost and found animals (as if I could care one whit), and before that ad nauseum information about Mafia Wars, or whatever the game du jour was, and little information about what my friends are doing or thinking or whatever. As for Twitter, pointless. Completely and utterly pointless. Ok, if you have 10 siblings and a ton of friends and need to send a mass message to everyone, I get that. But the daily minutia of who’s taking a poop when is stunningly stupid. Yeah, I know, millions are into it. I still don’t get it. (Although, that said, it sure helped the Iranian uprising keep the word out. But, how often does that happen?)

As to putting personal information out there, one needs to have their head examined. Kids who put too much information out there are going to find they’ve shared way too much information when they go to get a job. Companies are popping up to clean all this inappropriate personal information that people have decided to share. People don’t respect their own privacy…asking a corporation to respect it? Yeah, right.

I know, I sound like some curmudgeon. I’m not. I just value my privacy and my time. And I have enough sense to not share the intimate details of my life with ANYONE online.

Posted by: momomiester | 04/29/10 | 12:07 pm |
He is the example of how an idiot can become fabulously wealthy. Take a nerd, mix in luck and an old idea(geocities with bandwidth) and viola you have a visionary of a new society where everyone plays by the rules and we all sing “We are the world”. The reality is we live in a world of good and evil. There are criminals, pedophiles, stalkers, and crazy ex’s that we don’t want into our lives. In Mark’s world of stupid, people have no secrets and they don’t lock their doors either! Maybe the tool will learn as he gets older and has kids that the world is a dangerous place.
Well I would comment more but I noticed a potato chip that looks like Obama and I have to update my facebook page and tell everyone!. Also, I have to tend my farmville crops cause they look stressed! Oh, and I have to twitter everyone that I had a healthy bowl movement this morning. Gawed just send a giant EMP to take out the whole internet !!!!!!!!!F me!!

Posted by: minardi | 04/29/10 | 12:56 pm |
“considering how much of our personal data Facebook owns”

Who do you have to blame


Anonymous said...

Bilton's tweet sparks debate about "off the record" with little agreement about what it means
Posted by Kelly McBride at 5:27 PM on Apr. 29, 2010
A curious little conversation flared up in the last 24 hours about the journalistic conventions surrounding the term "off the record."

On Wednesday morning The New York Times' Nick Bilton, lead writer for the Bits Blog, tweeted out this nugget:

"Off record chat w/ Facebook employee. Me: How does Zuck feel about privacy? Response: [laughter] He doesn't believe in it."

In response, Wired Magazine's Eliot Van Buskirk suggested that Bilton abused his off-the-record promise, quoting NYU's journalism handbook which reads, " 'Off the record' restricts the reporter from using the information the source is about to deliver."

Bilton responded with another tweet, informing his followers that his source understood he would be reporting the information without attribution. Then everybody else weighed in. And few agree about what "off the record" means.

But that's OK. Good reporters do what Bilton did. They clarify the terms of engagement with their source. Journalists who insist on following a hard and fast set of rules will find themselves in trouble on this topic. NYU has a great J-school, but their handbook is overly rigid on this and will lead reporters astray. It doesn't allow for the confusion throughout the profession and the general public over this term.

Even if everyone in a single newsroom agrees on what "off the record" means, that doesn't change the fact that the rest of the population doesn't share a common understanding of the term. And now we live in a world where significant journalism grows in a variety of gardens, including the traditional professional newsroom as well as the vast Fifth Estate (all the rest of the world doing journalism). The terms are getting even murkier. Therefore, it's always the writer's duty to clarify the terms with a source.


Romenesko readers debate the definition of "off the record"

"Obama on Kanye West: Is the President Ever Off-the-Record?" by Kelly McBride

"Questions to Ask Before Going 'Off the Record'" by Kelly McBride

Some sources deal with lots of reporters, who could be operating with different definitions. Some sources have never worked with a reporter and their only reference point is what they've read in crime novels. That's why every reporter has to make sure he and his source have a common understanding, no matter what the handbook says.

Anonymous said...

A big can of worms
4/29/2010 5:20:34 PM

From DANIEL P. RAY, editor-in-chief, Whether there are or are not a standardized definitions within the journalism community of the varying shades of "off the record" doesn't matter. You can't expect sources to know the intricacies of our profession.

When I was a beat reporter at the Miami Herald, it was standard practice among myself and my peers that we defined it for the source -- "Could I ask you something not for attribution, meaning I can use it but won't use your name?"

If the source started a sentence, "Off the record ?" you'd immediately interrupt and say "hang on a sec, do you mean not for attribution, I can't use it until a certain time has passed, or until I'm writing my memoirs, or are you about to tell me something you want me to take to my grave?"
Going off the record to let someone hide behind a wall of anonymity opens up a big can of worms anyway. Why start it off by not even having both parties know the rules of engagement? [Permalink]

Different interpretations
4/29/2010 2:30:11 PM

From MAX BRANTLEY: I was taught in school -- and by original employers -- that off the record meant information could not be repeated to anyone else, in print, broadcast or other form.

To many people, however, the phrase means not for attribution. It is so widely interpreted this way that I always ask, when people invoke the phrase, if they mean not for attribution or not for publication in any form. Sometimes, not often, they really mean off the record. [Permalink]

Where are the bosses?
4/29/2010 2:21:40 PM

From JAMES COLE: Is this a new trend at the New York Times? Make an error and then argue you have a different definition than anyone else? (Read: Andrew Ross Sorkin on nationalization and Nick Bilton on off the record sourcing).

These gentleman may not have the emotional maturity to acknowledge their mistakes but they have bosses who clearly should know better. [Permalink]