Facebook Privacy Issues – The Irony

By Erik Qualman

[tweetmeme source=”equalman” only_single=false http://socialnomics.net/%5D

Perception is reality.  Social Media has taken us from Word of Mouth to World of Mouth.  The biggest benefactor to date has been Facebook.  Ironically, this new found speed of information dissemination may cause Facebook’s eventual downfall.  It helps items go from perception to reality faster than you can say “status update.”facebook privacy image

Much of Facebook’s success has been its simplicity.  MySpace allows you to customize your page and they have oodles of banners to put money into their coffers, but as we’ve seen play out this muddies the waters a bit too much for the general user.  Facebook on the other hand, kept items so easy to use that their user numbers skyrocketed as a result of dads and grandmothers joining in the fun:

  • More than 400 million active users
  • 50% of our active users log on to Facebook in any given day
  • Average user has 130 friends
  • People spend over 500 billion minutes per month on Facebook

Yet, when it comes to privacy, Facebook seems to continue to struggle.  Going back a few years to their launch of Facebook Beacon.  This tool allowed other Facebook friends to see which purchases you made online.  For example if I purchased David Meerman Scott’s latest book it would alert my Facebook friends of this purchase.  This is a very helpful thing, the point where Facebook stumbled is they opted every user into this tool.  One famous story was the young man that purchased a diamond ring for his soon to be fiancée.  Since they were connected on Facebook she was alerted of this purchase; probably not the romantic setting they had in mind.

Today, as reported by Nick Bilton of the New York Times, Facebook’s privacy policy is longer than the U.S. Constitution.  The U.S. constitution has a paltry 4,543 words to Facebook’s 5,830.  While Facebook is trying to give their users the freedom of choice on how they “want” their specific privacy, most users just want something that is easy and safe to use.  When downloading a piece of software, how many of us click on the “advanced” settings?  Not many, just give me the default and give me comfort in knowing that is the right choice.

I believe Facebook is smart enough to restore this comfort and restore it soon.  If they don’t, it could be their eventual demise.  After all, perception is reality, and their own tool can definitely hyper-accelerate perception into reality.  Ironic, isn’t it?

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8 responses to “Facebook Privacy Issues – The Irony

  1. Looks like this is about the time when a new service will pop up and be everything that facebook should have been.

  2. This is a great resource to make sure that what you have on Facebook is secure, but I think it is also important to remember that the best way to maintain privacy is to censor what you are sharing on the internet. For the most part, I think people do that.

  3. I agree that Facebook has a problem, but privacy issues on the Internet is something that goes way further. If people does not understand that their Facebook profile is a perfect door to their private lives there is nothing we can do about it.

    I think we should rather teach people how to be in the internet. We don’t have to explain them anymore that if you have a big windows in the ground floor of your house people can see you from outside… they just use courtains.

    So yes, facebook has to find the default mode that fits for more people, but people has to understand the meaning of that.

  4. I do not believe that Facebook will fail and start a decline because of the problem related to privacy.

    They’ve shown they are very intelligent, smart and innovative in creating and developing the Facebook and turns it in the best social media (in my opinion).

  5. The question you ask – how many of users bother to check their settings – is the thorn in everyone’s side when technology is adopted by the masses.

    It’s not just highly sophisticated technologies, but even simple ones: for the longest time, there was this running joke about people whose VCRs were constantly flashing “12:00” because they never bothered to figure out how to set the clock … and 10% of the audience laughed at the notion that people could be so stupid, while the other 90% laughed because, back at home, their VCR was flashing, and they felt a little awkward and embarrassed by it.

    And in most cases, it’s not because the manufacturers of VCRs made it difficult to set the clock – a child could figure out how to do it within half a minute – it was just that people didn’t bother. I don’t think the Facebook privacy “issues” are much different – the settings are easy to access and modify. But people don’t bother.

    There are sites like lamebook.com and failbooking.com that provide thousands of instances where people indiscreetly posted information that they probably shouldn’t have – and much like the VCR joke, 10% are laughing at the carelessness of others and the other 90% are a bit nervous because they may be doing the same. But unlike the VCR joke, being careless with social media isn’t a private embarrassment, but a public one.

    In the end, what disturbs me most of all is that the carelessness of the user has the potential to become a liability for those who provide these services. And it’s not that Facebook is evil or is trying to make things unnecessarily complex – it’s about as easy as it could possibly be, but people just don’t bother.

    No matter what Facebook does, how easy or obvious they make things, there will be people who simply won’t bother – and Web usability will bear out that even if you give them a “big red warning,” they’ll just click OK without bothering to read it – and worse, will get litigious when they seek someone else to blame for the consequences of their own disregard.

    If these problems continue, and if lawsuits side with the faction that wants to hold Facebook liable, the only choice is to shut down the service or disable it to the point where it’s not useful at all.

    That may seem a bit melodramatic from a short-run perspective of specific complaints and incidents … but over the long term, it’s a serious threat to the availability of technology in general.

    If it’s not feasible to provide a technology unless you can render it safe in the hands of users who won’t bother to read instructions or heed warnings without risking liability, than most companies won’t.

    My hope is that incidents such as the one you describe are used to illustrate to users the importance of paying attention – but in the “not-my-fault” climate of our current culture, I despair that may not be the outcome.

  6. Yes, it is ironic that their own tool could potentially bring them down.

    My perception, however, is that most Facebook users don’t care THAT much about the privacy issue to close their accounts. They see Facebook as a great way to share with friends, family and maybe meet a few new people. They don’t put information up on Facebook that they consider seriously problematic. They just like the connectivity and interaction and there not caught up in this issue the way some of us may be.

    So, I don’t think it’ll destroy Facebook, but it will hurt their PR and some folks will jump ship. I remember reading somewhere that FB engineers were instructed not to worry about the thousands of complaints coming in about various new features, as they were such a small percentage of the overall user base. That rubbed me the wrong way…as the vast majority of the user base is just not going to report back to FB one way or the other on new features. They’ll just use them; maybe grumble to themselves if a nice feature disappeared or a new one was tough to learn, but they’re not going to take the time to tell Facebook. Kind of reminds me of politicians who represent their own not their constituent’s interest, but that’s for another day.

  7. Thanks for the kind words Search. Facebook is an interesting topic as it literally is changing every day!

    Best, equalman

  8. Nice to find someone so interested in the analysis of this contemporary phenomena -facebook… It helps to understand it from a more outside perspective –not just being a facebook user…

    Keep it up!

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