Facebook and Privacy: Not Friends

There is a lot of talk about the Facebook privacy policy that has been handed down from Mt. Zuckerberg along with the tablets. The talk is not positive. Why? Well, it likely has something to do with the great Facebook sell-out of its dedicated users. In the sales world it is known that a “bait and switch” approach to selling is ineffective at best, and sleazy at worst. So where on that scale does the new privacy policies of Facebook fall? Well for me, I can only say, “Disappointing.”

Facebook, Inc.

Image via Wikipedia

Facebook has built its brand on pushing the idea that members should share real information so real people can connect to other real people, and not to some persona that is covered up in a neat social media moniker. As a result, people have come to trust the site as a place that is safe and exists for the user.
Well, that was then and this is now. Before the new policy took effect, most of the data that was given to Facebook was kept pretty private and there was not a tremendous concern about the data beyond the normal “it’s the Internet and nothing is really private anyway” talk. What Facebook has done now is to turn their backs on the folks that they built their data community on by saying that privacy is so 2005. In order to get your privacy back, you need to manage it yourself because the doors of the barn have been flung wide open.
Well, this move is just puzzling to me. I realize that there is a need to make money, but if this is how the master plan was laid out, then someone was asleep at the wheel. Since when was it good business to build trust with people over years and then pull the rug out from underneath them for your one-sided benefit?
Now the government is being called in, which is never a good thing.
So what may have Facebook done here? Let’s think about it.

  1. Pulled a Tiger Woods? Take a pretty good image and do something sleazy and what do you get? Discontent. Lower approval ratings. Nothing good comes of it an act that is disrespectful of others.
  2. Shown their true colors? Those true colors may be green, for the money which has been put in front of the community. No one is saying that Facebook shouldn’t make money. In fact, it is quite the opposite. They need to make money to show that social media is a profitable business. Sometimes, how you make the money (like selling out your users) can hurt your efforts.
  3. Moved toward MySpace territory? While admittedly a stretch, what if Facebook is simply the bigger version of MySpace and it has made a second or third generation social media business mistake that will make it go the way of Friendster, or even worse, be pushed to the fringes of relevance like MySpace.
  4. Shown its age? Let’s face it. Facebook was started by a very young guy and he shows his age more often than not. Maybe he is being swayed by counsel that is not in the best interest of Facebook, but he simply isn’t experienced enough to know differently. Being smart and being experienced are two completely different things. Mark Zuckerberg is definitely smart. The other? Not so much.
  5. Created a free monster? Maybe there is no real way to turn the switch on a pay model after being free for so long. Maybe this is just an example of being too big and too ubiquitous. People are used to everything just “being” with Facebook. Now as the company is required to make moves to be profitable (which it has not done yet) it is learning the hard lesson of its model.
  6. Assumed people wouldn’t pay attention? This is the most insidious of considerations because Facebook and their terms of service have always been a real PR play. They know full well that most people don’t pay attention to Facebook policies as evidenced by not reaching the required 7,000 comments recently to put a TOS issue to a vote. Maybe they were naïve enough to think that if the users of Facebook are just not paying attention then they could CTA (cover their a%$) with some privacy announcements and never look back.
  7. Realized that Google really is in control because of search? With Twitter opening their feed to the major engines, Facebook was up against it to a degree. It was forced to sacrifice one of its pillars of trust (privacy) for the demand to index the entire world in real time.

What’s your take on this? Is it an over-reaction? Did Facebook do any real damage in the long or short term to itself? Will we all forget this in a month or so? I don’t have any answers to this but my suspicion is that this is not the end of this discussion. Not by a long shot.

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