Commentary

Facebook Backlash Keeps Growing

If Facebook intends to revise its justifiably maligned "instant personalization," a new feature that shares users' names, photos, and other information with outside companies, the social networking service isn't yet ready to admit it.

Though the company held an emergency meeting yesterday about its privacy crisis -- or at least its public relations crisis caused by the most recent revisions to its privacy policy -- it's staying tight-lipped about what was said.

"We don't share specifics around internal meetings, but we had a productive discussion about the latest product announcements and how we can work on providing the best experiences for users and developers," said spokesperson Andrew Noyes.

Presumably some information about the meeting will leak soon. After all, it's not realistic to think that all of Facebook's employees will keep the company's secrets forever.

But the real question isn't when the details of the meeting will emerge, but whether Facebook intends to roll back its new settings. If Facebook wants to keep goodwill with users -- at least those who are even remotely concerned about privacy -- it has no choice but to do so.

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If nothing else, surely Facebook must be concerned to see headline after headline criticizing it. Or the growing number of articles about users who are considering exiting.

Just this morning, Boing Boing's Cory Doctorow became the latest prominent figure to announce he was quitting Facebook due to privacy concerns. "Never made use of #Facebook, but #privacy awfulness from #Zuckerberg has prompted me to delete acct," he tweeted.

Doctorow's move comes several days after other industry figures like Jason Calacanis to Wired's Ryan Singel took Facebook to task for pulling a bait-and-switch on users.

In short, Facebook first lured people to join the site by offering them the chance to keep in touch with friends, then decided to make users' information visible to the Web at large. Last month, in what may be the most outrageous of Facebook's privacy violations so far, the company launched "instant personalization," which automatically shares users' data with Yelp, Microsoft Docs and Pandora.

Facebook should keep in mind that social networks are only valuable as long as people use them -- and the public is remarkably fickle. While Facebook currently has some 400 million users, the growing backlash is creating an opportunity for a start-up social network to quickly gain traction.

The one bright spot for users is that although Facebook has a history of unleashing programs that go too far -- like Beacon, which told users about their friends' purchases -- the company also has a history of backtracking. Facebook might have no choice but to do so again.

1 comment about "Facebook Backlash Keeps Growing ".
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  1. Robin Raskin from Living in Digital Times, LLC, May 14, 2010 at 5:31 p.m.

    Facebook began it's life as a place of college kids to hang out. If you remember you needed a .edu address to gain access. Well, now the big kids took over and with big kids comes big business.
    Facebook has a track record of trying and failing and then recrafting policy. As a matter of fact the history of the high tech industry has been "throw it out there, see what happens, fix it later".
    My prediction? Zuckerberg will do some feel good thing to set things right again, and we'll all be a step closer to insuring that privacy continues to be an important tenet of the industry.

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