Facebook Tries to Clean Up Its Privacy Act

Can Facebook Users Really Expect Any Privacy Protections?

October 14, 2010

Facebook has become the most successful social networking platform in the world. What could go wrong? Customers' privacy concerns could cause a stampede. Can Facebook give customers' more informed choices about what and when to share without becoming so complicated no one will bother?


Facebook is a minefield for anyone with privacy concerns. It’s not alone among social media sites in seducing people into sharing more information with the world than they might have intended. But it is unique in its reach.

Facebook isn’t a single social networking site. It’s now a platform of 550,000 interlinked applications—each of which requests and shares your information, and sometimes, your friends’ information.

It’s too late to take back the information that is already out on the Net. But we can insist that social media sites, like Facebook, adhere to some basic privacy principles:

1. Opt in should be the default, not opt out.

2. We should be able to control who sees which information (not just friends vs. everyone, but advertisers, government, specific applications, etc.)

3. We should be able to leave, take our information with us, and delete it.

Facebook is making noises about giving customers more control over their information.

Do you believe them?

'Mark Zuckerberg' Contest

© 2010 Facebook.com

Illustration 1. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Co-Founder, Facebook.


Mark Zuckerberg’s Notoriety

Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg is once again in the cross-hairs of the media. The movie, Social Network, opened in U.S. theaters in early October. The movie is a fictionalized account, based on an unauthorized novel, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich. The writing of the novel was apparently catalyzed by one of the disgruntled co-founders. This “tit for tat” is described in a New Yorker profile of Mark Zuckerberg, entitled The Face of Facebook, written by Jose Antonio Vargas. We get Mark Zuckerberg’s side of the story. To the author’s credit, the article is not a white wash job. He includes Zuckerberg’s self-incriminating Instant Messages from his college student days. The New Yorker article was published in the September 20th edition, just before the movie debut. In it, Vargas writes:

“This makes the current moment a particularly awkward one.… Facebook profiles are always something of a performance: you choose the details you want to share and you choose whom you want to share with. Now Zuckerberg, who met with me for several in-person interviews this summer, is confronting something of the opposite: a public exposition of details that he didn’t choose.1

Based on the tenor of the spin coming out of Facebook, it doesn’t seem as if the book or the movie is likely to hurt the private company’s valuation or to impact the timing of a potential public offering. In fact, the spin seems to promote the “bad boy” image of Facebook’s CEO. After all, none of us are saints. Human foibles are part of the human experience—an experience that’s amplified as hundreds of thousands of very human beings share their life experiences on Facebook.

Movie Not Likely to Slow Facebook’s Momentum

The entertainment value of the movie, the debates about good guys and bad guys, the business machinations, and the ongoing litigations among the Facebook founders will continue to be grist for many lively online and offline discussions.

In the meantime, Facebook’s value continues to rise. According to Facebook’s statistics’ page, more and more people (500+ million active users, including my dog) spend more and more time (700 billion minutes/month or 47 minutes/day per person) sharing more and more details of their lives (average user creates 90 pieces of content each month) on Facebook. They entertain themselves with 550,000 Facebook-connected applications and games. This all attracts more and more advertising dollars.

As long as Facebook’s users feel that they are getting value from sharing information and ideas with family, friends, friends of friends, and the world at large, the positive network effect is likely to continue unabated. The more people use Facebook to publish their thoughts, photos, whereabouts, and favorite links, the more likely it is that others will join.

In the past month, I’ve heard several people say that they are getting rid of their other personal email addresses because everyone they want to communicate with does so through Facebook. That’s the coveted position Facebook wants to be in.


I don’t believe that anyone who uses Facebook believes that their information is private. That’s the whole point. Everything you post on Facebook is out there for the world to see. We also know that Facebook sells information and access to advertisers. That’s why...


1) Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/09/20/100920fa_fact_vargas?currentPage=all#ixzz123AREjtw

2) Read more http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/09/20/100920fa_fact_vargas?currentPage=all#ixzz123aKzhHZ



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