Privacy Rules Only Apply to New Products

Let's face it: Facebook is a privacy disaster. From the Beacon disaster to Zuckerberg brazenly declaring that nobody wants privacy anymore (and that's why we're now supplying all your data to search engines), FB has led the pack in consistently compromising the integrity of our data. The company's latest move, announced last week, involves Facebook's occasional "need to provide General Information about you to pre-approved third party websites and applications that use Platform at the time you visit" -- again using Facebook'ssignature move of making changes opt-out rather than opt-in.

Oddly, nobody seems to care. User numbers continue to skyrocket -- the more than 400 million members dwarfing the mere 73,000 folks who have signed on to the "Facebook, stop invading my privacy!" petition. The masses continue to share billions of photos, blog posts, notes and events with each other every month.



Back in January, Zuckerberg explained that the company's ever-decreasing privacy protection was in recognition of its need to "always keep a beginner's mind and what would we do if we were starting the company now and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it."

A couple of people cried foul. The ACLU is taking note. But we'll continue to use Facebook, no matter how badly its purveyors treat us, because that's where everyone else is. Nobody wants to be the first to try to start a new party in an empty room.

So does this mean actual beginners -- companies that don't yet have hundreds of millions of active users -- can have the same kind of mind, one that doesn't care about flouting people's privacy? Don't bet on it. When it comes to new products, we're hypocrites who will gladly take the moral high ground.

Take Buzz. Google's ill-fated offering was never going to get traction, attempting as it did to skip straight to the early majority and circumvent the normal laws of consumer uptake. We haven't collectively invested trillions of hours in it; we haven't collectively recorded the past six years of our lives on it. Although we might, in a fit of irony, join a Facebook group to protest Facebook's disrespectful behavior, we'll out and out sueGoogle for Buzz.

And that's Google. Buzz is still on my Gmail (although David Berkowitz is singlehandedly filling the feed) and the impact of the failure is insignificant in the grander scheme of the search giant. Remember Phorm? Two years ago, that company's behavioral targeting platform got shut down before it ever got off the ground. Sure, the offering infringed on privacy -- but I doubt it would come out worse than Facebook in a blind comparison. Last week, Phorm CEO Ken Ertegrul announced that it's launching commercial operations in Brazil. Although Ertegrul speaks of "the many lessons learnt from experiences in other markets," the announcement doesn't clarify whether the Brazilian service will be opt-out or opt-in, which is of course the crux of the problem.

If it's opt-out, watch out, Phorm. You can be cut loose at the drop of a hat. 73,000 complaining members might not be much to Facebook, but they'd likely be enough to dissolve the tenuous bonds of a nascent partnership in Brazil.

What's the lesson? You can get away with whatever egregious privacy violations you like -- as long as you're already entrenched in the market. If you're a newbie, though, tread softly or you'll never get off the ground.

What are your thoughts on privacy, and, more importantly, do you change your behavior accordingly? Let me know in the comments or @kcolbin.

1 comment about "Privacy Rules Only Apply to New Products".
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  1. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, March 30, 2010 at 11:21 a.m.

    Actually this all means when the next great network comes out watch everyone leave Facebook in droves. No one trusts them, but yet they have no alternative. And since Facebook allows us to share but not really converse something will come that blows them out of the water. Hopefully before they have an IPO.

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