Yesterday we saw some of the early history of Facebook and how that history might be pumped up by the movie “The Social Network,” due out this fall. The CEO and one of the inventors of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, seems comfortably nonplussed about the movie’s sexy spin on his and his friends’ efforts. But other concerns about the future surely do weigh on the young man who recently watched his website and company surpass 500 million subscribers. In fact, one of the awkward facts about Facebook is that it is by far the most used social-networking site, yet it is also the most griped about. Most recently: changes in privacy settings left users requiring to comb back through settings to opt out of new modes of sharing and even opt back out of what they had previously established as hidden information. Numerous have cried ‘foul!’ and are challenging the practice. The an already jaded relationship between users and the company.
One of the grave concerns about Facebook (indeed, about social media and social networks in general) is privacy. There is no doubt that the company has adjusted its settings and stumbled ever onward trying to explain those setting over the last five years. The crux of the matter is that Facebook has been deciding what ‘Everyone’ can see in one’s account, and deciding that more information can be seen by ‘Everyone’ with each passing iteration of their service. The company also makes it fairly clear that one can opt out of sharing most everything, though it is not always clear precisely how to finagle one’s settings to a level of sharing that is comfortable. For a great infographic/timeline explaining the ‘swell’ of what information is made available by default, check out this site.
“Our research shows that privacy concerns, frequent changes to the Web site, and commercialization and advertising adversely affect the consumer experience,” Larry Freed [President and CEO of ForeSee Results, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based research firm that partnered with ACSI LLC to conduct the e-business survey] said. “Compare that to Wikipedia, which is a nonprofit that has had the same user interface for years, and it’s clear that while innovation is critical, sometimes consumers prefer evolution to revolution.”
To pile on the gloom, Facebook might have a BP/Tony Hayward problem as well (If the term “doing a Hayward” moves into the popular lexicon, we want our due credit), in that when its board members talk to the public, they have an uncanny ability to say just the wrong thing. Case in point: the online Q&A session held between , Vice President for Public Policy at Facebook, and readers of The New York Times. Take the following exchange, for example:
“Why not simply set everything up for opt-in rather than opt-out? Facebook seems to assume that users generally want all the details of their private lives made public.”
– abycats, New York
“Everything is opt-in on Facebook. Participating in the service is a choice. We want people to continue to choose Facebook every day. Adding information — uploading photos or posting status updates or “like” a Page — are also all opt-in. Please don’t share if you’re not comfortable. That said, we certainly will continue to work to improve the ease and access of controls to make more people more comfortable. Your assumption about our assumption is simply incorrect. We don’t believe that. We’re happy to make the record on that clear.”
In other words, if you have a problem with the service, you have the problem, not the service.
Even if Facebook got graded a ‘D,’ it still is the biggest social networking site in the world. Even if its 20-something Vice President for Public Policy gets irritated with the public, the site will likely continue to grow. So what are some of the attractions that make it so popular, if also so hated? Part of the frisson might be a combination of jealousy and mixed expectations between supporters and detractors of the site. Please check in tomorrow as we explore some of those issues.