PALOS VERDES (Reuters) - Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said he has no date in mind to take the Internet social networking company public, and defended changes to the service that have provoked privacy concerns.
The world’s largest social network last week unveiled a set of features to give its nearly half-billion users better control over what data they share with the public.
But Zuckerberg said pushing the boundaries on other aspects of Facebook, such as a new “instant personalization” feature that automatically shares users’ personal data with websites like Pandora and Yelp, was part of what made Facebook such an innovative company.
“Certainly on a day-to-day basis if we didn’t disrupt things that would be the easiest way to proceed,” Zuckerberg told the All Things Digital conference on Wednesday.
“But we don’t believe that if we did that we’d be doing the best thing for us long-term or for the industry,” he continued.
Facebook will continue to make what it believes are the right changes, even if some of them are controversial, he said.
Facebook has grown into one of the world’s largest Internet services and is closely-watched by investors hoping to one day buy public shares in the fast-growing company.
The Palo Alto, California-based company is increasingly challenging more established Internet players like Yahoo Inc and Google Inc for consumers’ online time and for ad dollars, even as it tries to strike a delicate balance between protecting privacy and promoting social sharing by its users.
The 26-year-old Zuckerberg, who co-founded Facebook in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, was asked if he expected to remain CEO if the company went public. Zuckerberg said he did, adding that he doesn’t “think about going public ... much.”
He said he did not have a date in mind for a potential IPO.
Facebook’s backers include Digital Sky Technologies, Microsoft Corp, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing and venture capital firms Accel Partners, Greylock Partners and Meritech Capital Partners.
The company does not disclose financial data, though analyst estimates for its 2009 revenue range from $500 million to $650 million, primarily from selling online ads targeted at users based on their activity and profile information on Facebook.
“The advertising on these systems I think will get much more relevant than that in a lot of the other systems very quickly,” Zuckerberg said of his company’s advertising efforts. He cited a recent media report that said Facebook’s roster of advertisers has increased by four times in the past year.
During the roughly 50-minute on-stage interview, Zuckerberg addressed a wide range of issues, and he dismissed previous reports on tech blogs that Facebook is developing a Web-based email service to compete with Yahoo and Google’s Gmail.
“We’re working on a number of things, but we’re not building a webmail competitor,” said Zuckerberg.
He noted that he was more interested in short-form messaging technology, like the 160-character text messages that mobile phone users increasingly zap to each other.
Zuckerberg also said that more than 200,000 websites now use the company’s social “plug-ins,” which allows Facebook users to click on buttons across the Web to show that they “liked” a particular online article or video.
“I don’t know if we always get it right,” Zuckerberg said about some of the service’s controversial new features. “But my prediction will be that a few years from now, we’ll look back and wonder why there was ever this time when all these websites and applications ... weren’t personalized in some way.”
Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Gary Hill and Lincoln Feast