The Devil's Advocate: Should Facebook Just Ignore All This Privacy Nonsense?

At the risk of turning this column from the Social Media Insider into the Facebook Ranter, let me close my month-long look at Facebook's (maybe too) Open Graph and ask the devil's advocate question: Should Facebook even listen to the Leo LaPortes of the world, or just look at the numbers -- headed to 500 million users within the next several months -- and continue on with its plans?

You probably know-- if you've read my columns for the last few weeks -- what I really believe, but I began to wonder about this alternative viewpoint after being asked by several mainstream media types recently if this most recent Facebook privacy controversy is going to stop the Facebook juggernaut. And, while things seems different this time since some people -- including Leo LaPorte -- have cancelled their accounts, my answer in all honesty, has to be: "No."

Some numbers bear this out. A "Quit Facebook Day" group, which got running earlier this week, currently has under 6,000 members. Its aim is to have people make their Facebook accounts go permanently dark, en masse, on May 31. Another group, at, only asks users to log off for one day: June 6. It has a mere 1,500 members. Both groups, at least at the beginning, got their share of viral exposure, but neither has exactly caught fire. The fact is that the majority of us are going on just as we were before all this started, despite our threats to go join Diaspora* as soon as it launches. To do the math, if all of the people who have joined "Quit Facebook Day" actually do so, that will be .00001% of the entire user base (based on a current estimate of 450 million users.) That's not something to cry in one's beer about.

 So, while on the one hand, I've been critical of Facebook for its tone-deafness in the light of its ever-shifting privacy policies, an alternative position is that Facebook should continue with its strategy of saying the whole thing is no big whoop, and, in addition, that Mark Zuckerberg & Co. are, indeed, doing something good when they allow us to share content with our Facebook friends across thousands of sites, even if it wigs some people out. Facebook's public policy chief, Tim Sparapani, said in an interview yesterday that this was, "an extraordinary gift to the public." Guffaw all you want, but leave open the possibility that, for most Facebook users, this will end up being true.

It's worth noting that, during the same interview, Sparapani said Facebook would be simplifying its privacy settings in the next few weeks. What many of us might have expected was a press conference, a Mark Zuckerberg come-to-Jesus moment - something to accompany the news so many of us have been waiting for. It would have been so satisfying. Instead, it was casually mentioned, and maybe that speaks to Facebook's confidence in its direction instead of what many of us -- including me -- consider its ongoing cluelessness.

Interestingly enough, what Facebook is going through these days mirrors what so many prominent brands go through when people sound off about them in social media: a struggle to figure out who they should listen to, and what the number of fans or "Likes" of groups that have a beef with Facebook really mean. Maybe company strategists looked at the (slow) velocity of these anti-Facebook groups, and realized that, in terms of its plans for world domination, they are much ado about nothing.

 What do all of you think? Comment below.

7 comments about "The Devil's Advocate: Should Facebook Just Ignore All This Privacy Nonsense?".
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  1. Derek Gordon from Re:Imagine Group, May 19, 2010 at 4:45 p.m.

    This series of columns have been great, Catherine. Since this latest privacy kerfuffle erupted, my view has been it won't amount to much if a significant number of users fail to become animated about the issues. And as you point out, they're not (despite the efforts of those of us in the pundit class.) And they won't. There are a number of viable alternatives today that offer much greater privacy and security (I'm an adviser, to one called, and there's been no appreciable spike in registrations at these locations. People get settled in their ways pretty quickly and given all the media / friending users have invested in Facebook to date, the switching costs are just too high. Like Google before it, Facebook is the newest 800 lb. gorilla and it appears to be getting its way on this and a number of other issues.

  2. Bruce May from Bizperity, May 19, 2010 at 4:49 p.m.

    From the beginning this story broke I felt that the people complaining were dwarfed by those who don't really care. Most of my friends who live on Facebook could care less. They are on Facebook precisely because they like to share everything about themselves. Privacy means nothing to them. Tell a stranger about their innermost thoughts and secret trips to Vegas? Sure, why not... there are no strangers... just new friends. I wasn't sure if I may have an unusual group of friends, (since I am a bit more private about myself) but in doing a little more checking around I've decided that your number is probably right... only 0.00001% of all Facebook users really care. The others just consider it one big party.

  3. Arun Sinha from Access Consulting, May 19, 2010 at 7:18 p.m.

    Resistance is futile. All this hand-wringing about Facebook will come to naught. Until something better comes along, Facebook will keep steamrolling on.

    AOL, in its day, had plenty of detractors too. But despite all the horror stories about its customer service and reliability, it kept adding new customers. Because there wasn't anything better around.

    But just as something did come along that replaced AOL -- the Web -- something will come along that will replace Facebook.

  4. Steven Parker from Parker Communications, May 19, 2010 at 10:49 p.m.

    You had it right before, Catherine. We shouldn't make the mistake of thinking just because most people ignore the problem that they SHOULD do so or that there is no problem. Most people ignore most societal problems--but that doesn't mean they don't exist! Losing your right to privacy is a societal problem and human rights issue. Being big is no argument for being right. Even if their growth hums along and this proves only a slight bump in the road, there's a lesson here: NO COMPANY is too big or successful to be felled by problems of this magnitude. I understand the people who are ignorant of their right to privacy, but I can't for the life of me figure out why Facebook apologists feel a need to ACTIVELY ADVOCATE that everyone should just SHUT UP and take whatever crap they dish out because somehow we all agreed (when?) that we want them to privatize the Internet, rip off our private data (if not our identities) and reap enormous profits. Why?

    They may not pay a serious penalty in the market for their misbehavior, but we must at least keep an open mind to the possibility that they might. If we don't, then heaven help us, because a) it would mean the market can't rein in social media vendors and b) anyone who wants to take over our country needs nothing more than the latest shiny social media bauble, and millions of witless sycophants will exclaim, "I'm yours, Big Brother!"

    If Facebook was a normal company, the CEO would be going to the woodshed and PR school, and he/she and the PR department would have to turn this situation around and fast or else the Board would can them all.

    Some "revolutionaries." Real revolutionaries don't stand by and let someone pick their pocket because of the inconvenience of stopping them. Everyone's got a manifesto, but no one's got a clue.

  5. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, May 20, 2010 at 9:37 a.m.

    H. L. Mencken was right about underestimating public intelligence. I am continually amazed every few weeks when some acquaintance on Facebook is duped by the urban myth that a subscription fee is imminent for Facebook.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 20, 2010 at 6:38 p.m.

    It's already happened - the takeover. Who is winning? the public, the government or the drug cartels? This narcissistic generation will leave a legacy of a chained, prisoned world.

  7. Ron Ladouceur, May 24, 2010 at 9:57 a.m.

    Catherine, I too have enjoyed your Facebook series. It’s a HUGE story, so no need to apologize for the ongoing rant.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, the issue here is not so much that Facebook is sharing data, but that it is taking data I am storing on its server merely for convenience sake and pawning it to make a buck. It claims it is doing me a service, which as soon as I adjust to “Privacy 2.0” I’ll get. But that's a con. Simply put, pressure to "monetize" has turned Facebook into a "friend" with a bad habit.

    Long term, that has to work against the brand, don’t you think?

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