Facebook Privacy Concerns Could Spell Exodus
Could Facebook's playing fast and loose with user privacy spell the social network's demise? Some are suggesting exactly that.
One of its chief antagonists is well-known tech entrepreneur Jason Calacanis who, in a recent email to his subscribers, alleged that "Zuckerberg and his company are--simply put--not trustworthy."
Calacanis, along with other technology early adopters and pundits, are calling for a mass exodus from the platform, not unlike that of Moses and the people of Israel leaving Egypt. When you consider the stakes -- Facebook's membership roles exceed 400 million people worldwide -- it does take on somewhat biblical proportions (I use that term loosely, of course).
Disturbingly, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg appears aloof to these growing privacy concerns. In fact, when asked, one company employee was quoted as saying, "He [Zuckerberg] doesn't believe in it."
I've said for some time now that Facebook intends to be the operating system of the social web and, with over 40 percent of all social network traffic emanating from Facebook, it is well on its way to gaining a place of such prominence. It's too bad that has to happen at the expense of user privacy and the subsequent erosion of trust that will inevitably result.
An alternative to Facebook
There are those, like Wired.com's Ryan Singel, who suggest that it's time for an alternative. "Facebook has gone rogue, drunk on founder Mark Zuckerberg's dreams of world domination," states Singel. "It's time the rest of the web ecosystem recognizes this and works to replace it with something open and distributed."
Those cries in the wilderness are being heard, too, most notably by a group of self-professed nerds, college students from NYU each younger than Zuckerberg, who have banded together to create what is being heralded as the "anti-Facebook" social network, Diaspora.
When it's completed (the rollout is expected by end of summer) the platform, which is built on an open source framework, will allow users to maintain autonomy over their own data and how much they share, as opposed to handing ownership over to a third-party like Facebook.
"We believe that privacy and connectedness do not have to be mutually exclusive. With Diaspora, we are reclaiming our data, securing our social connections, and making it easy to share on your own terms," says the group.
The implications for marketers
To be honest, all this gives me a headache. Not that I don't take privacy concerns seriously (indeed I do), but I've spent the better part of the last few years convincing companies of their need to participate in social networks, not the least of which is Facebook. I'm not yet prepared to throw in the towel and suggest the Facebook era is over.
For one thing, even though early adopters like Calacanis may be ready to move on, there are millions of early and late majority folks jumping on the Facebook bandwagon every week. There is still plenty of opportunity for marketers to reap benefits from participation and I cannot see that it is yet time to abandon the platform.
Besides, even if an exodus were to take place, it would take years for Facebook to become dislodged as the premiere social network. I'm not saying it won't happen -- MySpace gives us plenty of precedent to suggest it can -- just that it won't happen quickly, nor anytime soon.
Here's what I do advise marketers to do: Stay in the game, but keep watch on the prevailing winds. If Diaspora or some other social network begins to gain ascendency, give consideration to establishing a presence there.
A final word regarding Mark Zuckerberg
One has to wonder why Zuckerberg is paying such little heed to these concerns. Does he believe that Facebook lies beyond the pale of disrepute? Is he so isolated in his ivory tower that the cries of the masses fail to reach his ears?
An ancient proverb says, "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall." Zuckerberg would do well to heed the warnings of Calacanis and others, for when and if the exodus (or diaspora) begins, it may be too late to stop.
What do you think? Is it time for businesses to abandon Facebook or hang in there until something better comes along? Does Facebook's laissez-faire attitude toward user privacy trump the benefits of using the platform for marketing purposes? Do ethical concerns override economics?
If the movie coming out this summer, "The Social Network," is anything like the book it's based on ("Accidental Billionaires"), I think people will get an education that will help them realize just how much Zuckerburg doesn't care.
Paul Chaney says:
Thanks for the comment. Zuckerberg may not care, but he cannot keep turning a deaf ear to the panoply of voices from people expressing concerns. Until recently, I felt it was only the Internet's movers and shakers who held such concerns. I'm now hearing from rank-and-file Facebook users who share similar anxieties. That signals a groundswell of discontent which cannot be ignored. I have to believe, in spite of his own personal proclivities, that Zuckerberg will have to respond favorably and make significant changes to privacy policies. That's my hope at least.
Zuckerberg lacks the maturity to understand the difference between hubris and accomplishment. This is a game of Master of the Universe, with just about that much substance. Yes! I vote for a mass exodus from this make believe world.