Facebook Does About-face With Your Privacy

You may remember last December when Facebook began prompting users to make their shared content and status messages publicly visible. With the announcement, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, encouraged Facebook users to follow suit by changing his own “old” privacy settings and posting this statement:

For those wondering I set most of my content on my personal Facebook page to be open so people could see it. I set some of my content to be more private, but I didn’t see a need to limit visibility of pics with my friends, family or my teddy bear :)

A few months later Facebook pushed the privacy boundaries again with its latest program, “Instant Personalization”. This service allows other web sites to customize user experience by giving them access to user’s Facebook data. And no, it’s not an opt-in program like the other one.

This new direction in privacy policy represents quite a shift from Zuckerberg’s previous stance when he termed privacy control as “the vector around which Facebook operates.”

A Change in Tactics

Not only did Facebook change its approach to privacy, it also changed its approach to implementing these new directions.

With the Instant Personalization program, Facebook embraced the “we know best” mentality further and omitted the prompts altogether.  Users found themselves already opted-in without the need to trouble themselves with giving consent. Sure, you can still opt out, but Facebook warns you that you’ll be forfeiting a “richer experience as you browse the web”.

No, I’m not making this up.

Why Have Things Changed?

So why the change in direction?  What elixir did Zuckerberg drink to make him adopt Google CEO, Eric Schmidt’s mantra, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place”?

Zuckerberg’s Facebook page offers this simple explanation:

“i’m trying to make the world a more open place.”

In a video interview with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington, Zuckerberg elaborated on this idea further by promoting Facebook’s willingness to stay flexible and embrace ever-changing “social norms”.

It starts to get interesting at about 2:50 as Mark elaborates on Facebook’s view of your privacy:

In case you don’t want to watch the video, here are the relevant quotes:

We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.

A lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built, doing a privacy change – doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the kind of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner’s mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.

Facebook’s Real Motivation

However, if I’m making my guess, I’d say the interests listed on his Facebook profile tell the REAL story:

  • Openness” – openness to increasing Facebook’s marketshare & revenue
  • Breaking Things” – like Facebook’s previous privacy policy
  • Revolutions” – creating his own in an attempt to dethrone Google
  • Information Flow” – the more your information flows around the web, the higher Facebook’s revenue
  • Minimalism” – minimizing your concerns

Let’s cut to the chase…

Facebook sees an opportunity to control the web the way no other company – not even Google – can. It has 400 million users (and growing) and it will leverage those users (and their data) to control what people see and how they interact on the internet. That’s an amazing opportunity which could make Zuckerberg one of the most powerful (and richest) people in the world.

Now do you see why some privacy concerns aren’t going to deter Facebook or the venture capital people that back them?

Now don’t get me wrong… I love Facebook and will continue to frequent the site. In fact, I may have even chosen to opt-in for a service like “instant personalization”. But that aside, Zuckerberg isn’t kidding anyone here. As far as this writer is concerned, this is all about increasing revenue and Internet dominance.

What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

Last week, PC Magazine published a nice little slideshow tutorial offering 8 steps on how to better protect yourself from the privacy pitfalls of Facebook. Unless you’re planning on abandoning Facebook altogether, I highly recommend checking it out…just recognize upfront that your tutorial won’t be personalized!

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