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The age of privacy is over

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has attracted a lot of attention lately over his new stance on privacy, with some claiming his attitude is tantamount declaring the age of privacy is over. It’s not that he’s wrong. It’s just that it’s not the smartest communication strategy and it’s just the latest in a series of mis-steps by Facebook. In fact, Zuckerberg might have a point. Many people have become far more open about their lives, especially younger people who have grown up with social networking. I recently met Stowe Boyd, who has written some very interesting stuff on this trend, calling the style of Twitter “publicly” (as opposed to privacy). Perhaps the default that Twitter has pursued of being open is better than what Facebook chose (of paying more attention to privacy).

Mr Mark Zuckerberg AKA Mr Facebook

Image by Carlo Nicora via Flickr

But it’s not better for everyone. My daughter, for example, finds Twitter’s openness “creepy.” And a lot of people are criticizing Facebook for something more basic–changing the rules in the middle of the game.
Facebook’s history in this area isn’t strong. They seem to shoot themselves in the foot over privacy a few times a year. And I know a lot of people are rather cynical about it, sure that some kind of evil plan is being hatched.

And that’s certainly possible. It could be that Facebook has a plan to gradually weaken privacy just to finally make some money, that they’ve become convinced that the privacy approach they originally started with is the biggest impediment to cash register ringing.

I’m not as sure that it is evil. It’s possibly just a lack of self-awareness. Facebook looks around at Google and other large companies and feels hopelessly outgunned when they lok at their own revenue. They feel like a small company, but the world treats them as a big company, because they have 200 million users. A lot of companies go through this as they get bigger. It takes them a while to realize that they get away with things the no one used to notice when they were little and cute.

But whether the constant privacy fiascoes result from malicious intent or accident, it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the public will eventually decide. If all of Facebook’s critics represent the real public opinion, then they will eventually be forced to do what their users want. If they are wrong, then Facebook can continue as it has.

But that makes Zuckerberg’s public embrace of this new stance even stranger. The era of privacy might be over, but the era of dumb statements seems alive and well. I’m not sure why he feels the need to tweak the critics.

To me, Facebook is taking the wrong approach, not about privacy, but about something deeper–its style of decisionmaking. The reason that Facebook continues to run afoul of critics is that it makes unilateral decisions. What would have happened if Zuckerberg instead threw the decision out to its users:

“What everyone who loves Facebook needs to know is that we aren’t making enough money. It costs a lot to run this service for so many of you and we need to figure out how to make enough money. We want to hear your ideas of what we can do.”

By starting a dialogue, he’d be staying true to the real essence of Facebook, which is conversation among its members. Maybe it’s still not too late.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is an expert in digital marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also serves as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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