Who cares about Facebook privacy? Not who you think.
by Josh Bernoff
Unless I'm missing something, you can't.
TJX put 45 million credit cards at risk. Do you even remember (it happened in 2007)? Has anybody stopped shopping at TJ Maxx? Can't see the impact.
In the online world, I can't name a single significant company that had a problem. They pay lip service to being concerned about privacy, but in fact, a small number of verbal people whine, but very few leave. If a site is useful, most people (not you, the smart readers of this blog, but average everyday people) vaguely wonder about what happened, but won't give up their site.
Our own quick poll shows that few are leaving -- and our readers are way more knowledgeable than the general Facebook population.
Read the new Facebook announcement carefully. Here's my analysis of what Zuckerberg is saying: Facebook's engineering process led them into this spot. It's not that Facebook is against your privacy, it's just that they weren't paying close enough attention -- they were concentrating on connections to the open Web, like the "Like" button. But now the outcry is loud enough that they've fixed things with a simpler set of settings.
Not stated, but in the background, is this key fact: the more private your content is, the more Google can't index it. The more public it is, the more Google searches can land on it. Facebook is trying not to be part of the splinternet, but its own members won't let it.
What does this mean?
First, the most important impact of the Facebook flap is not on its own members, but on Congress. Regulation would cause lots more problems than a few members leaving. This is the real battle to watch, and the one that was probably quite persuasive in getting Zuckerberg to change his tune.
Second, if Facebook followed the path it was on, it risked becoming the first significant company to lose business due to not paying close enough attention to privacy. Eventually, some company will create something so compelling that they think privacy doesn't matter. At that point, we'll see which people prefer -- fun/utility, or privacy. And I'm betting fun/utility wins. Because while few will admit it, Zuckerberg might be right -- privacy isn't much of a norm any more.
What does this mean for you as a marketer or Web site? The angel on my right shoulder wants to tell you to behave carefully with people's information. But the devil on my left says you won't lose many customers even if you don't. Just remember, it only takes one violation to trash your reputation -- a lesson Facebook should have learned three years ago with Beacon and Charlene Li. Assuming you don't care about your reputation, your customers may just stick with you anyway.
(Speaking of Charlene: her new book Open Leadership cites Facebook as a very open company. I'm curious about what Charlene thinks about their most recent behavior.)
Photo credit: Rob Pongsajapan via Flickr