Why You Should Care About Facebook's Latest Privacy Breach -- Even If It Is 'Bunk'

I know, I know. A lot of us rolled our eyes earlier this week when The Wall Street Journal breathlessly announced that its exclusive investigation had revealed another Facebook privacy breach, this one about personally identifiable information leaking out while no one was looking via the social net's third-party apps. 

TechCrunch's Michael Arrington summed up the industry feelings nicely, when he said:

 "The only real concern is that all that data can also be tied to you doing something with a third party app. So in addition to your profile information, the database also gets to know that you like Farmville.

"Is this a real problem? No."



You know this. I know this. But the reason this is still a problem is that the rest of the world doesn't know this -- including most of the 500 million people on Facebook, a lot of federal officials, and most CMOs. All most of us need is to hear the words "Wall Street Journal," "investigation," "Facebook" and "privacy breach" strung together and we're good to go -- off into paranoia that isn't justified. So, once again this week people were positively getting tied up in their underwear over social data. Gotta protect the privates!

But, sigh... even if you do get why this isn't a big deal, it's really hard to explain it to those who don't.

Yes, the perception versus the reality of the guts of social data is a favorite topic of mine, but this week it hit me with renewed force because of how this played out in my work life. I frequently appear on an LA news radio station commenting on social media topics, which, given the broad audience, usually presents the challenge of describing what's going on with Facebook and Twitter and privacy in plainer language than you and I would normally discuss them in.

Naturally, I got the call to comment about the privacy breach story, but this time I felt almost incoherent in trying to explain why this just didn't merit as much concern as the story was generating. Good thing the interview was taped! It made me wish we could assign a star system to news stories of privacy breaches, and Facebook privacy breaches in particular -- one star being "Not worth losing any sleep over" and five stars being "Delete your Facebook account now and enter the Witness Protection Program!!!" That might make it simpler.

Since the star system doesn't exist, I finally told the interviewer something to the effect that if you were looking for yet another reason not to waste your life playing "Farmville," this privacy breach was as good a new reason as any. True, but not very reassuring.

So, as I've said before, when it comes to social data, the industry has to remember that in order to calm consumers, it's not about the reality of how data is being used, but the perception -- and learning to communicate that reality in ways that anyone can understand. Me, I'm still working on it.

7 comments about "Why You Should Care About Facebook's Latest Privacy Breach -- Even If It Is 'Bunk'".
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  1. Han Ko from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, October 20, 2010 at 3:19 p.m.

    I don't think it's bunk. Clearly companies violated their own privacy policy which begs the question...what else are they disregarding? Also one company, Rapleaf, got Facebook ID's and from what I understand they create social media profiles from off-line data.

  2. Paul Benjou from The Center for Media Management Strategies, October 20, 2010 at 3:35 p.m.

    You're cavalier take on this breech surprises me. Frankly, YOU don't get it.
    That tens of millions of users had their Facebopok unique ID information ported over to marketers who can, in turn, cross reference data across other bases and secure names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. does not seem to bother you astounds me.
    The "clueless" CMOs and federal officials you point to (as well as most of the 500 million users) are concerned.
    I suggest you re-examine the real problem here .... namely illegally avoiding game rules for the sake of ad revenue.
    You may not care ... fortunately others care for you.

    Paul Benjou

    Ad Blog:

  3. Barb Chamberlain from Washington State University Spokane, October 20, 2010 at 4:05 p.m.

    Yet another reminder that if you say it or do it online, it WILL be available somehow, somewhere, and tied back to you. Accept that, behave accordingly, and you're set.

    Your bottom line comment to the interviewer is almost word for word what I posted as a Facebook status update with a link to one of the stories: yet another reason not to waste your time playing stupid games on Facebook.


  4. John Jainschigg from World2Worlds, Inc., October 20, 2010 at 4:07 p.m.

    I agree with han ko. Certainly, I curl my lip a little bit at privacy hysteria, sound-bite thinking, and ... well frankly, at pretty much anything the Wall Street Journal has to say.

    But then I remember that -- in actual _real_ reality -- just-plain-folks are surrealistically and transdimensionally screwed with respect to privacy, and in ways utterly impervious to and/or evasive of control by amusing legal fictions like Facebook's privacy policy. That given, if a constant drumbeat of hysteria around and about that privacy policy is the best we can do to awaken folks to the real dimensions of the cosmic threat, maybe it's not such a bad thing, or something we should seek to calm down.

  5. Amy Lutz from House Party, Inc., October 20, 2010 at 5:46 p.m.

    I'm thinking that this story would be a terrific addition to the agenda of Stephen Colbert's "Keep Fear Alive" event in D.C.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 20, 2010 at 6:32 p.m.

    You are begging to be controlled.

  7. Eric Scoles from brand cool marketing, October 23, 2010 at 8:11 a.m.

    This cavalier attitude toward privacy (and, frankly security) is kind of irritating. How are we to take you all seriously as experts if you continually signal us that you don't care about privacy -- or, for that matter, honesty and disclosure?

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