I know TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington wrote about this earlier, but I wanted to offer some thoughts as it relates to Facebook’s latest privacy” crisis of faith”. With more and more talk about whatÂ Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly (and yet to be proven) said via instant message that gave people the impression that privacy is just another meaningless word to the social network and to its founder, there are more pundits and tech commentators here in the Silicon Valley who are getting a bit fed up about Facebook’s laxidasical attitude towards one of the important aspects of user safety: privacy. Some well-known commentators have even gone as far as to delete their Facebook accounts (including @leolaporte, @peterrojas and @mattcutts) and there’s also a growing “movement” at the end of the month to send the social network a message and, en masse, delete or make inactive your Facebook account. Depending on how many participate, this may not even phase Facebook enough to make changes.
However, they have issued a recent statement as it relates to privacy and their view of it:
The privacy and security of our usersâ€™ information is of paramount importance to us.Â Weâ€™re not going to debate claims from anonymous sources or dated allegations that attempt to characterize Mark’s and Facebook’s views towards privacy.
Everyone within the company understands our success is inextricably linked with people’s trust in the company and the service we provide. We are grateful people continue to place their trust in us.Â We strive to earn that trust by trying to be open and direct about the evolution of the service and sharing information on how the 400 million people on the service can use the available settings to control where their information appears.
So while this hailstorm of a PR nightmare is being thrust upon Facebook, there are some people who are eager to move their attention towards another social network and take over the reigns of supremacy from Facebook. Not many will probably stand a chance nor have the infrastructure to handle a large boom in users…except, that is, MySpace. Yes, I believe that @arrington was right in his article This Is MySpaceâ€™s Moment To Shine, But That Obviously Isnâ€™t Going ToÂ Happen where he mentioned that the once popular social network should rework its policies and get active and in front of the privacy storm affecting Facebook. Could this privacy issue also snowball and become a bigger issue that affects other established social networks? If so, MySpace should definitely get out there and leverage Facebook’s dismal response to privacy and start working on how to counteract the affect it could have with their users. MySpace needs to positively and comprehensively ensure that user data isn’t being freely released to third-party applications without their knowledge and explain to them clearly how they can disable it.
If there are other dealings with third-party applications like Pandora, CNN, etc like Facebook talked about at the keynote address at this year’s F8 conference that MySpace is also working on, then those deals and partnerships should be released. Moreover, one additional touch would be to talk about how its users can be more connected with their friends, but that the data isn’t going to be compromised in any way and used in a safe manner. Those types of reassurances might go a better way to power MySpace’s revival to become a more widely used social network.
Now there’s probably a lot of things that MySpace is probably doing that we don’t know about that is yet to be unveiled, but sooner or later, the Facebook privacy “crisis” will soon be dead news and we’ll go on our merry ways, but if there are things that are being done, I think it would be good to see MySpace jump into the arena and show how much better they are when it comes to securing data, privacy and that they’re the better network – beyond simply being a hub of interest for musical bands, actors/actresses and other niches. I’m not saying that it has to be entirely centered around public relations, but it could also involve some marketing – strategic and grass-roots marketing in order to get people paying attention once again. It might be me living under a rock, but I don’t think I’ve heard of anything substantial coming from MySpace over the past few months over Facebook’s latest development and partnerships. MySpace isn’t dead, people…it should be their time to rock our socks off while their main competitor lies prone to repeated attacks by pundits, press/media and privacy advocates.
Does it have to be all MySpace?
There has been talk that a closed system like Facebook has opened the doors for a open data system. In fact, Chris Saad (@chrissaad) and Elias Bizannes of the DataPortability project penned a post entitled Assessing the openess of Facebookâ€™s â€œOpen Graph Protocolâ€� in which they summarize that while the social network is becoming more about the semantic web and recommendation system, the data is still locked into a single system. In fact, it seems from the article’s summary that Facebook’s data, which is produced by you and its millions of users, is locked in so tightly that while you might think it’s “open” with the data being spread throughout the web and you can see what your friends are doing, it’s not a legitimate open system. I’m assuming that in Saad & Bizanne’s article, by an open system, they would define the data as being able to be both taken and shared by the user on a variety of platforms. This would mean that your photos you share on Facebook or your likes/interests would be shared on Pandora and when made compatible, could also be imported into other open systems as well – true data portability.
Some interesting points also made by Saad & Bizaane that should be considered include:
- In order for true interoperable, peer-to-peer data portability to win, serious publishers and other sites must be vigilant to choose cross-platform alternatives that leverage multiple networks rather than just relying on Facebook exclusively.
- While allowing users to interact with content without authentication to the host site might be considered a win for user privacy, it is a devils bargain for the publisher who is hosting Facebook user experiences while only seeing a fraction of the potential value.
- Facebook has done a great job in handling social gestures (“Like”) which may clearly rival the recommendation system created by Amazon. However, this data is only submitted to Facebook’s platform and not shared elsewhere. In order to receive this data now, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and any other players would have to negotiate bulk access to the datasets, putting Facebook in a position to control who gets to innovate on these social patterns.
Are you leaving Facebook? Will MySpace charge the field to seek victory?
I don’t think that I will leave Facebook, but I do see its dominance over all social networks troubling, especially here in the United States. However, the privacy issue is also a responsibility that lies with both the user and the service. But we all need to have our feelings assuaged over this issue…sharing our data and content without our consent, albeit not necessarily our music choices, but other more personal data that we might keep on our Facebook profiles hidden from public view, is something to be taken seriously. Not everyone here lives in public and we need to be careful about that data.
However, with MySpace, they should definitely take advantage of any fallout from this issue that is currently haunting Facebook. While it won’t necessarily skyrocket the social network up the ranks of social media tools, it will help paint a better picture of their offerings and may just lead them to a more stable and popular revival.
UPDATE (5/17/2010): MySpace has gotten ahead of the pack by posting an article written by Mike Jones, Co-President, about its privacy settings.