Before the tidal wave of change that swept through my life the past couple months I had intended to write about the privacy controversy surrounding Facebook. Back then Facebook not so elegantly made their “closed garden” an “open garden” and in the process made a lot of people angry. Facebook’s privacy settings were and still are confusing. Facebook heard the uproar though and attempted to make some changes. This post is Part 1 of 2 3 on the topic of privacy and social media. Facebook for better or worse has grabbed our attention on the topic of privacy but there is much more to discuss and much of it provides great opportunity.
Facebook’s Permanent Impact on Privacy
At one time the title of this post was going to be “Privacy: Facebook Wins, You Lose”. On some level I still feel this way, but in short Facebook provides a service that to many is worth giving up some if not all of their privacy for. The problem with Facebook is they’re not very ethical about this… they force their privacy changes on people. Jason Calcanis put it best in his assessment of why Facebook is not trustworthy. I should state that I whole heartedly agree with Jason on principle. But why did Quit Facebook Day flop with only 1 in 15,000 accounts being deleted?
I personally was a bit caught up in the arrival of my son when this was all happening, but that was fortuitous as it gave me time to better understand this question. My wife and sister are on Facebook quite a bit. Why? It’s the one place you can go to see an instant update of everyone you know. No digging though email or haphazardly taking instant message chats. Convenience trumps privacy… for now. Of Facebook’s 500,000,000 members you’re likely going to have a good number of friends and acquaintances that are on the site making it easy to track news and updates with in your social circle.
Let’s be clear from the start Facebook operates in a constant state of conflict. They make it easy for you to share information about yourself to your friends, but they make money from sharing your information with other companies. The two goals are diametrically opposed in regard to privacy. Complicating this is that Facebook started out as a “closed garden”. What I mean by this is that Facebook was originally developed so your information was private, to be shared only with people you knew. Now they’re being influenced by Twitter and seeing more income opportunity exists in the free flow (public display) of your information. For the past several years they’ve been slowly realigning their system to maximize how they share your information… making it an “open garden” by removing their walls / barriers of entry. Problem is they got millions of members to join under the guise of privacy. It’s important to note here that the public display of your information has helped Facebook.com become the #1 visited site surpassing Google.com.
Once Facebook hit a certain size in audience, let alone traffic, Facebook won and you lost. You have forever lost. Enough people have said its OK to reveal their information publicly, even if its not for you. The ability to have Facebook revert if not significantly modify their system is lost and they’re betting that you’ll never leave because it’ll be too difficult for you to reestablish your network elsewhere. A new open source solution with greater respect for user privacy such as Diaspora could arise… but it will be a while. (Ironically even Mark Zuckerberg founder of Facebook has provided money for Diaspora to get off the ground in a PR move to show good faith.)
So seriously at this point how likely are you to quit Facebook over privacy? Slim to none I bet even with news yesterday that 100 million Facebook users had their public data stripped from Facebook and made available via a download.
Next on the topic of Privacy:
Facebook’s flip-floping business model has thrust you and I into a position to rethink what privacy means to us, but as you’ll see in my next post as a business owner this shift in privacy has its upside. Stay tuned for “Social CRM: Opportunity Knocking”
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[tags]Social Media, Facebook, technology, privacy[/tags]