Facebook Should Learn Fundamental Facts on Privacy

Lora Bentley
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If Facebook can remember these five facts about user privacy, its headaches might begin to fade.

User privacy has been the bane of Facebook's existence for the last few months. Both U.S. and European regulators have been on the company's case, as have privacy advocates, and an increasingly unhappy user base.


In an effort to put regulators and users more at ease regarding user privacy practices, the social networking site did recently announce it's planning a simpler set of privacy controls. It's a good start, but Facebook's leaders are going to have to get their collective heads around a few fundamental facts before they can begin to regain trust from many of the website's 400 million-plus users.


First, privacy isn't as dead as CEO Mark Zuckerburg and others who lead similar companies would like to think. If users really didn't care about privacy, they wouldn't be upset every time the company tweaks its privacy controls or makes a change in its privacy policies. I would have thought Facebook learned this lesson way back when the company tried to launch its Beacon advertising program. Apparently not.


Moreover, less is more in users' minds. When The New York Times gave readers a chance to ask a Facebook exec questions regarding the company's privacy policies and controls, one reader asked simply, "Why can't you leave well enough alone?" He or she seemed fed up with the constant tweaks to the system, which inevitably made more user information available to the public unless the users go into their accounts and opt out of the changes. Simpler really is better.


If simpler is better for the users, that's typically what regulators want, too. That and they would rather see more information protected rather than the constant pushing of the privacy envelope that Zuckerberg and friends are so fond of. And mere lip service won't fly with the regulators, either. When the European Union's Article 29 Working Party asks the company to require users to "opt in" before more of their information is made available to the general public, that's what it expects to happen.


Most importantly, Facebook needs to remember that if users aren't happy or don't trust the company, they will take their likes and dislikes, their status updates, and their photos and videos elsewhere. A mass exodus certainly wouldn't be good for the company's bottom line.

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