Facebook, Privacy & The Market

Posted by on May 25, 2010 in Culture | Comments Off on Facebook, Privacy & The Market

Facebook LogoLike many folks over the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the whole Facebook privacy kerfuffle. There’s been plenty of buzz on the social networking sites about what many perceive to be a creepy privacy policy. TechCrunch and Mashable have been all over the story and Mark Zuckerberg himself has gotten into the mix with a piece in the Washington Post today which should help to dispel some of the negativity that arose from this article that came out last week.

Much ink is being spilled on this as well in the traditional media. The Wall Street Journal ran two articles last week in the B section and the always thoughtful Peggy Noonan also opined in her Saturday column about privacy and exhibitionism and what it means to us as not just individuals, but rather as Human Beings (capitalization intentional). I also got into it on my Facebook page, partly because all of the talk really made me think and partly because I wanted to see what others thought. I did consider dropping my Facebook account, but opted instead to scale back on what I share. Now, I was not a huge sharer, some favorite bands and books, marital status, company name, city, some hobbies. The wave of negativity spooked me a bit, I must admit, but feel much better for having locked down my account some more. Facebook is a valuable tool as my colleague Greg Wood reminded me and it’s an easy place to connect and re-connect to people who are friends and also resources who are invaluable in my line of work.

Over the past week, the reactions of Facebookers, and others in the online-space have been very interesting and compelled Facebook to both adapt and clarify their policies. Facebook has had some mis-steps over the past year, but they are a relatively young company in a very fluid market. They seem to test and learn as they push the boundaries and expand the usability and functionality of the platform. Facebook, like any business today seems to be fairly responsive to user concerns (the negativity to the last functionality upgrade notwithstanding) and they adjust course to respond to the concerns of their users. There is too much at stake not to. The danger, as I see it, and one that Gordon Crovits mentions in his piece in Monday’s WSJ (5/24/10), is that this should not be taken as an opportunity by the political class to protect us from big, bad, Mark Zuckerberg.

These new tools come with responsibilities for users too. If you want to publish the most intimate details of your life in a public sphere, then have at it; but, be prepared for the negative consequences. Understand that you control your information, and that you can and should share it in a way that makes sense to yourself, jibes with your values, and helps you achieve your goals for using the social space (social media goals apply to both individuals and corporations). It seems far better to me to allow people and companies to figure this out together (as is happening now with Facebook) than let the government begin dictating terms and conditions to us. If we cede ground to the government in this discussion, and let them swoop in and “save” us, the web in general, and social sites in particular will become very different places. You can count on that.