The Price of Being Social – Facebook Becomes More Transparent-ish?

Who is this guy?  Facebook Knows, and will tell you!

Who is this guy? Facebook Knows, and will tell you!

Facebook is changing its data use policy (translation – Privacy Policy) on the social network.  As Selena Larson of readwrite states plainly, “You Are Its Product.”  Yesterday, in Facebook’s own Facebook Site Governance page they announced upcoming changes.  As of the writing of this post, they have 777 comments.  One of my those comments calls into question this comment period.  In the post itself, Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer states very plainly these are going into effect in a week.  The commenter asks ‘do you really care?’

The crazy thing is I actually do think they care.  What they care about is not what you care about, though.  Facebook, like any other for-profit business, cares about their bottom line.  Generally whatever helps the bottom line is good, and whatever hurts the bottom line is bad.  GigaOm reports that these changes are a response to the recently settled Sponsored Stories lawsuit.  Easier to take the hit now with public outcry (though 777 comments from over 2 million folks who follow that page isn’t exactly an outcry) than continue to worry about the rights they are securing for you.

What they don’t care about is you.  Let me rephrase that.  They care about you only in support of their bottom line.  You are its product.  If you no longer use the service, they no longer have a product.  So they want you to keep coming back.  Never ever forget, if it’s free you are being sold.  I think I have even talked about it before.

What is the Perception?

Perception is reality, so what is the perception here?  I actually think Facebook looks good here.  They look like they are paying attention.  They look like they care, despite my favorite comment.  I wonder what the Site Governance’s EdgeRank is though and how many non-experts are really paying attention.  The New York Times Bits blog is reporting on this, but are we all just talking to each other.  Do average users read that blog.

In a quote on the GigaOm article covering this change, Chief Privacy Officer states that they rewrote the advertising section to better explain how they use your information to serve up better ads.  Better ads mean better revenue to Facebook, right?

What is a bit more interesting was the last few words of that quote, “to people on and off Facebook.”  Sounds like an interesting monetization play for me, and it makes me wonder where this all go.

So after the changes go into effect, if you use Facebook (“simply using Facebook” as Lauren Hockenson of GigaOm says) gives your permission to use your name, your likeness and posts for ads without compensation.  Lauren goes even further and points out that this permission also extends to users under 18.

What’s In a Face?

The facial recognition provisions of the changes are more troubling.  Facebook wants to make it easier for your friends to tag you in their photos.  They are so worried about this that they are going to implement facial recognition processes using your main profile photo.  They want you to be tagged more in photos and make it easier.  So they will provide more suggestions for tagging of friends.  I wonder how far this will go, though.  By the way, did you ever read a 2009 research article on the privacy problems associated with user pictures?  Go here to read Carnegie Mellon’s research that suggests you can derive social security numbers from photos.  The most private of private information derived from public unprotected data with photos you have less and less control of.

The Problem of Opt-In

Facebook is trying to eliminate surprises.  I don’t think that a note to their Governance page that is followed by 2/10 of 1 percent of their user base (According to their January earnings call they had 1.06 billion users and the Governance page had 2 million follows) is enough.  I don’t think the changes are minimal.  I would have liked seeing some sort of splash screen or other notice.  I think this is large enough to have warranted it.

The advert change is just a clarification, to be honest.  It was always Facebook’s position that they could do what they were doing.  It was simpler to accept a small settlement and this direction from the court than it was to fight further.  So, I give them a pass on those changes.

What is not a clarification is turning on a new feature that shares more of me with the network by default.  If you don’t like this, you have to navigate to your Privacy Settings and turn it off.  Haven’t we learned the lesson of opt-out as a default?  Yes, we have, but turning it on means a boost to the bottom line, so why would they?

By the way, suggested photo tagging based on facial recognition is a feature that isn’t allowed in Europe.  I have never been a fan of normalization across disparate jurisdictions, but why are our privacy rights any less important here in the United States.

What Can You Learn

I think there are lessons to be learned here.  While we all react as users, consider what you do in your own work.  When you change things in the relationship with your consumers and users, you need to think about how to communicate that to them.  If you have the luxury of change management professionals, please pass these teachings on to them.

Be transparent, be up-front.  Most of all, think of how you are reacting to Facebook’s changes and imagine your users doing the same thing.  Do the right thing by them and by you.

Related Posts

4/23 – If It’s Free – You Are Being Sold

5/13 – Free Labor – Putting Your Users to Work

5/29 – The Privacy Value Exchange on Social – You Are Being Sold!

6/17 – Perception is Reality – The User is Always Right

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