NEW YORK (Reuters) - Facebook said on Wednesday it will allow members to turn off a controversial feature that monitors the Web sites they visit, and its chief executive apologized for not responding sooner to privacy complaints.
In a note in his blog, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the online social network took too long to react to users' concerns about the "Facebook Beacon" feature, which notifies a user's friends of visits to affiliated Web sites.
"We've made a lot of mistakes building this feature, but we've made even more with how we've handled them. We simply did a bad job with this release, and I apologize for it," he said.
The Palo Alto, California-based company had last week made several changes to Beacon in the wake of a petition signed by 50,000 Facebook users to scale back the feature.
"It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share," Zuckerberg said. "Instead of acting quickly, we took too long to decide on the right solution. I'm not proud of the way we've handled this situation and I know we can do better."
Facebook is a nearly 4-year-old site that has exploded in popularity since May, when started allowing independent software developers to build their own applications on the site.
The site has grown nearly fivefold to 55 million users in a year. In October, Microsoft Corp bought a 1.6 percent stake in Facebook in a deal that valued the company at $15 billion. Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing has also taken a 0.4 percent share, according to a source familiar with the deal this week.
Facebook recently introduced Beacon as a way to keep one's network of friends on Facebook informed about one's Web surfing habits. Critics argued this transformed it from a members-only site known for privacy protections into a diary of one's wider Web activities.
Reporting by Franklin Paul