RealTime IT News

Facebook at 200 Million

Facebook has hit an important milestone in the young company's growth, signing up user No. 200 million some time Wednesday.

To commemorate the occasion, CEO Mark Zuckerberg penned a high-minded blog post talking up his creation not for its famously diversionary trivia quizzes and games, but for its ability to create meaningful connections among people throughout the world and effect real change.

"Creating channels between people who want to work together toward change has always been one of the ways that social movements push the world forward and make it better," Zuckerberg wrote.

"Technology has made it easier and faster for people across the world to share more and more -- from the daily activities of their lives to events that impact their communities," he said. "At Facebook, we want to build the best service in the world for people to connect with and share everything that is important to them, whether day-to-day or world-changing."

In that spirit, Facebook has created a new section on its site called Facebook for Good, essentially a repository for stories about how the social network has done its part to save the world, one meaningful connection at a time. The page greets visitors with a BBC story about a troubled British teen being snatched from the jaws of a suicidal drug overdose thanks to the quick-thinking American girl he was chatting with on Facebook, who prevailed on the White House and the British Embassy to alert the local constable in Abingdon. The boy made a full recovery.

Other stories tell of how Facebook helped reunite a long-separated mother and son, and how police are using the social network to fight crime. The page also features posts imported from the Facebook blog, which has been running a series on the myriad ways Facebook is improving the world (playing matchmaker, bringing communities together, creating a support group).

To burnish that civic-minded patina, Facebook announced partnerships with 16 charities and advocacy groups, including the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the American Heart Association and United Way.

Each of those groups now has a presence in Facebook's gift shop, where visitors can make charitable contributions in the same way that they send virtual gifts to their friends. Facebook promised that the group will receive between 90 percent and 95 percent of the contribution after deducting a small portion to cover administrative costs. The company assured users that it will keep none of the money.

Separately, Facebook has thrown its lot in with the Future of Privacy Forum, an industry-backed privacy think tank that champions consumer awareness about online privacy without rushing to policies that would hold back business growth. The group was cofounded by Christopher Wolf, a prominent Washington Internet attorney, and Jules Polonetsky, who most recently served as chief privacy officer for AOL.

Facebook, like many online firms looking to wring ad dollars from their stores of consumer data, has run into privacy concerns when it has enacted policies that its users find invasive. Most recently, Facebook sparked a controversy when it changed its terms of usage to assert ownership of all the information people posted on the site, even after they took down their profile. Facebook quickly recanted, and rolled out a new model of governance where members of the community have a hand in crafting the site's operating principles and usage agreement.