By B.L. Ochman
For the past two weeks, Facebook has been getting hammered for changing its privacy settings with Open Graph. Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, who said that privacy is no longer a social norm (he’s right!) is being labeled a privacy villain, and most recently an untrustworthy sex addict (heh!)
Bloggers and Tweeters are roasting Zuck in droves, and mainstream media has joined the pile. The number one “How do I” search on Google is “how do I delete my Facebook account?” But really, what’s the big deal? Privacy is already dead.
I agree that Zuckerberg screwed up
Let me just say that I agree with those who say Facebook should make privacy allowances an opt-in, not a ridiculously complicated opt-out buried deep inside the site.
The good news about Facebook
Beyond that, Facebook has:
• arguably done more to create and advance the social web than any other site;
• connected 425 million people with others they want to involve in their lives;
• launched what can only be accurately described as a communication revolution that’s really still in its infant stage.
The positive side of Facebook’s changes
Let’s look at the positive things that could come from making the new privacy settings optional:
- people who want to engage in social shopping would have the most robust tool ever invented. Just by clicking on the new “Like” button, share as much information about what they buy, where they visit and what they enjoy, they could share a remarkable amount of information with friends.
- People want to share what they are doing, buying, saying. That’s why social shopping sites, Twitter, texting, and every other social tool, including Facebook, are growing so exponentially.
- ethical marketers could create new privacy policies that let consumers choose whether they want to be dynamically fed discounts, coupons, special events and news relevant to their purchases or searches on the site.
- the creation of social objects would be so much easier because people would receive information about friends’ activities in real time and be able to respond and expand the interaction
Zuck’s got a major PR problem
He’s prone to launching radical changes, waiting for public acceptance or outcry, and making modifications as demanded. (CNET Facebook follies history; Infographic on Facebook privacy history)
How Facebook could have earned praise instead of derision
If, instead of pursuing that misguided path with Open Graph, he’d announced the features of Facebook’s new API; explained how they actually could make the web an even more interesting and collaborative experience (more on that later) and made trying the new tools an invite-only option, he might have had an entirely different response.
Instead, he overplayed his hand, and now he’s the one who’s under scrutiny by everyone from Congress to Hollywood to blogs and mainstream media. After all, turnaround is fair play, but I’m sure Zuck’s squirming under the pressure.
Privacy has been dead for a long time.
While heaping blame on Facebook is now in vogue, and it’s funny when Jason Calacanis talks about getting Zucked, consider the information your credit card company, Amazon, Google, Yahoo, and any site you visit regularly already has about you.
It was dead before the Internet came along. Consider what information about you is already public. Ever make a copy of a private document on a digital copier at the library or Kinko’s? You ain’t got no privacy baby!
Facebook is just the latest focus. People have made a lot of terrible decisions about what they put online for as long as the Internet has existed. It’s about time everyone realized that you shouldn’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want an employer, the government, or your mother to see. Facebook never made those decisions for anyone!
Facebook IPO imminent?
Nonetheless, Facebook is paying for their bad decisions about Open Graph. They’ll have to hire a big deal PR firm to help them fix their damaged reputation and Zuck will have to tone down his spiel. The privacy settings on Facebook will be moved to “opt in” and they’ll have to make them clear and easy to find. That’s housekeeping.
Sooner rather than later, there’ll be an IPO valued on your privacy data. It seems inevitable. Last week, Zuck hired (R) Tim Munis, former Bush-era FTC chair to handle privacy issues. Clearly, he’s got to start playing nice in the sandbox.
The Hollywood movie will ridicule Zuck and make people take him less seriously. But then again, like anyone who’s lost a job when an employer found a racy shot of them on Facebook, Zuck should have been thinking about his reputation and his privacy back when he said and did the things that the film will feature.
Diaspora – your privacy’s future
Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of this mess is the dawning of the new privacy revolution. Consumers are going to take back their privacy. Witness Diaspora, the project of four NYU students who aim get their open source Diaspora “in the hands of every man, woman, and child at summer’s end.” They raised $170K+ from more than 4,500 people (including my $25 contribution) on Kickstarter in just 10 days. Here’s what they’re doing:
You’ll get a Diaspora “seed,” a personal web server that stores all of your information and shares it only in ways, and with those you choose, giving you full control of your online identity. “Diaspora knows how to securely share (using GPG) your pictures, videos, and more. When you have a Diaspora seed of your own, you own your social graph, you have access to your information however you want, whenever you want…Once we have built a solid foundation, we will make Diaspora easy to extend to facilitate any type of communication, and the possibilities will be endless.
For a little more detailed explanation, checkout this blog post.
Man up – it’s not all Facebook’s fault.
Some people think the rich will eventually find a way to pay to keep their data private through yet to be created privacy services. But it seems too late for that for most of us – rich or poor.
People want to choose who sees the information they share. That’s the concept at the heart of social networks. Facebook broke the rules by making the decision opt out instead of opt in. But there’s no going back.
Almost every one of us has already over-shared private information – from our real birth date to our mother’s maiden name entered as the answer to a security question on a website. Don’t blame Facebook. We gave up our privacy without help from Zuck. He’s just the latest chapter.