Facebook Doesn’t Think You’re a Dumb F**k — Really!

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facebook_small.jpgADOTAS – I wonder if CEO Mark Zuckerberg has turned into the Facebook equivalent of Bill Gates. While doing some research yesterday, I came upon the Dickipedia (sort of like Wikipedia, but for… people that can be easily associated with male genitalia) entry for Zuckerberg, which nearly made me fall out of my chair laughing:

“Many people are quick to compare Zuckerberg to MySpace president Tom Anderson. It is worth noting that while everyone on Myspace is Tom’s friend, no one on Facebook is Mark’s friend. This is because the latter is a dick.”

Zuckerberg’s rep took another hit yesterday as BusinessInsider exposed a none-too-flattering IM exchange between the 19-year-old Facebook founder and a Harvard friend. “So if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard, just ask,” he wrote. “I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS…. People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They ‘trust me.’ Dumb fucks.”

Yikes! Granted, teenage Zuck (his IM name) probably had no idea the ‘book would take off and become the global phenomenon it is now, but that kind of disdain towards users (even facetiously) does not help the company’s case in its latest privacy drama, especially when their argument of late (for just about everything) has been, “Trust us.”

In a statement, Facebook replied: “The privacy and security
of our users’ information is of paramount importance to us…. Everyone within the company understands our success is inextricably linked with people’s trust in the company and the service we provide. We are grateful people continue to place their trust in us.”

Trust, trust, trust… You guys certainly haven’t made it easy for users lately, with code mishaps and loopholes in its Instant Personalization that make stuff you swore you’d be private open to any online predator. Oh, and that emergency, all-hands meeting concerning negative reaction to the privacy policy that Facebook held yesterday? Apparently it was only a company-wide Q&A session — don’t hold your breath for an imminent 180.

This latest privacy debacle elicited an interesting debate between friends last night while watching the Boston Celtics finish off the Cleveland Cavaliers. One pal pointed out that if you put that information online, it’s pretty much public and game for advertisers that want to target you. However, I replied, most users didn’t know when they signed up that they would have to change 50 settings so Facebook wouldn’t sell off their data to “trusted partners.”

Facebook’s been changing the rules as it goes along (see the charts), most definitely in its own, revenue-producing favor. The Electronic Frontier Foundation actually constructed a timeline of Facebook statements that document this change, concluding:

“As Facebook grew larger and became more important, it could have chosen to maintain or improve [privacy] controls. Instead, it’s slowly but surely helped itself — and its advertising and business partners — to more and more of its users’ information, while limiting the users’ options to control their own information.”

And that is what is annoying users — it’s one thing to have brand fan pages that users can “like.” In words easy for the industry understand, you’re truly letting users opt in. But changing the privacy policy to grant increased access to advertisers is some back-door, sneaky stuff — no matter how much you sugar-coat it on your site governance blog.

As John Gapper wrote in a Financial Times article titled “Facebook’s Open Disdain for Privacy,” “Not only has Facebook gradually eroded the privacy rights of its users, but it has done so in a confusing and opaque way.”

In a Q&A with NYTimes.com, Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president for public policy, says communication between Facebook and its users needs to improve, but his responses are the equivalent of pissing in users’ faces and calling it rain. Communication needs to improve, sure, but the onus is on Facebook’s side. Is it any wonder users believe Facebook’s mavens view them as dumb fucks? They seem to be treating users that way.

However, I think something else is brewing in the latest hostile reaction — a general realization by the public (particularly people in the U.S.) about how much data they would consider personal is online. Perhaps its a growing shift in the cultural mindset from oversharing — and this heightened self-consciousness may be the result of increased targeting and use of data by advertisers.

It might finally be sinking in that the Internet is not free. In exchange for handy services like Facebook, you must exchange a pound of flesh — I mean, a great deal of personal data. You must accept that you will be targeted by advertisers who in turn pay to keep a lot of cool stuff free. In that case, online consumers aren’t dumb, but they have been willfully ignorant.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Good article Gavin. I suppose I am a minority in that I like having my FB data shared, as I’ve been getting more relevant ads. Just yesterday I got a FB ad for a social game the matched perfectly with my interests. Great to get perspective on folks that haven’t drank the online advertising Kool Aid though.

    • Thanks Courtland — I quite enjoy your blog as well but I need more updates!

      Like I said in the conclusion, I’ve come to view the services on the Internet as a trade-off — there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so you gotta give up something if you want to surf. With Facebook, Zuck and crew have been real sketchy about reworking the privacy policy — which I think the majority of the user anger comes from. Yes, they had the conference and the site governance blog, but — to borrow John Gapper’s terms — the dialog has been “confusing and opaque.”

  2. Does anyone know if Facebook is profitable and can point me to some authoritative source to substantiate? Everybody is concerned about privacy and rightly so. I agree that Facebook could simplify this. That said, if your are disatisfied with Facebooks privacy policy, or you don’t get enough value out of Facebook use in exchange for handing over some of your personal information to “trusted parnters”, just opt out of using Facebook altogether. It’s a free country and last I checked, we had a capitalist economy – i.e. Facebook is not a not for profit, they are in business to make money. Facebook can provide a great value for small to medium sized businesses to communicate with their clients, especially for a B2C businesses. This can be done outside of the use of Facebook paid ads by effective use of the fan/like button and promoting your company page through a variety of channels. If we preclude Facebook from leveraging user data to provided targeted, relevant ads in exchange for free use of its service, we may find that the service becomes paid service, like a Classmates or MyLife and those complaining about privacy practices when then complain about paying subscription fees to keep their data safe.

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