Facebook's counterproductive privacy approach

Earlier this month, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained his company's privacy policies:

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that's evolved over time...

So now, a lot of companies would be trapped by the conventions and their legacies of what they've built, doing a privacy change for 350 million users is not the type of thing that a lot of companies would do. But we viewed that as a really important thing, to always keep a beginner's mind and think: what would we do if we were starting the company now, and starting the site now, and we decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.

If you ever need an illustration of how technology companies don't understand their customers, file this item away for later reference. Zuckerberg's mistake goes beyond overlooking the genuine and justifiable discomfort that many individuals feel about Facebook's privacy guidelines. A bigger problem lies with how organizations feel about Facebook.

Certainly, many private companies and public agencies worry that their employees may be wasting time diddling with social networking sites when they should be working. This battle may already be lost, as social media adoption continues to roll forward across every demographic, and personal mobile devices make unsanctioned access to social media that much easier. The situation may not be as hopeless as King Canute dictating instructions to the ocean, but employers are increasingly accepting that there will always be some level of social media activity happening under their noses.

Where these organizations draw the line already is workplace content on Facebook or other social networking sites. Post pictures of yourself dressed in a ridiculous Halloween costume, and your company may not like the implication that it would hire someone as goofy as you. Post pictures from an off-site meeting, in which your company's plans for the next year are visible on the white board in the background, and expect the jumbo-sized can of HR whoop-ass to open imminently.

These concerns go beyond photographs, profile information, and other user-generated content. Applications deployed on a relatively new platform like Facebook open a new front in organization's war on unnecessary corporate risks. Any work-related application, deployed to a platform that appears to have a laissez faire attitude about privacy, or unplugged holes in its security, is going to generate executive-level conniptions.

Therefore, while many users treat Facebook as the center of gravity in their social media universe, they won't be doing their work from Facebook, even though there's no technical obstacle to doing so. Companies like SAP, salesforce, and Netsuite already have made portions of their applications available as widgets, mash-up components, plug-ins, or other fractions of bigger systems. In fact, nearly all companies that have "widgetized" their applications encourage their customers and partners to build their own widgets through a supported framework.

However, if you search the list of Facebook applications, you won't find a big library of comparable widgets. While some SaaS companies, such as Zoho, have invested in Facebook application development, others have yet to hop on the bandwagon. As of today, Facebook is a great place to play Mafia Wars, or send virtual flowers to someone with whom you're flirting, but it's not the place where salespeople enter opportunities, or loan officers get alerts about documents that need their attention. Why is that, do you think? (Hint: Last week's flurry of news reports about breaches of Google's network security didn't help matters.)

Even if Facebook utterly failed to attract work applications to its platform, it can still be a big success. Still, one has to wonder why Facebook would choose to limit adoption. Facebook's privacy policy aggravates tensions between itself and employers, not to mention many individuals who don't want to keep monitoring what Facebook has revealed about them. Unless there's some security-related defect in Facebook's underlying technical architecture, the company's decision to base its privacy model on the habits of people who market social media appears unnecessary and counterproductive.

[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]

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re: Facebook's counterproductive privacy approach

Facebook is unlikely to become a business collaboration platform because a professional network needs to be gated (permeable but still gated) with policy controls at the gate. I don't see people managing their personal and professional interactions through the same platform.