Hey, guess what: Facebook privacy is about 10% as important as the digital literati like Jason Calacanis or Walt Mossberg make it out to be. And let me explain why. Because jumping on a topical bandwagon really just sells conference tickets, drives more video views or increases one's email subscribers – okay, so a couple new people may read TechDrawl as a result :-) And as the Ban Facebook movement flop proved, nobody’s mom or dad gives a damn. In fact, didn’t those 26 psycho teabaggers make a bigger dent on public policy?
There are two basic things to remember when considering the question of Facebook and privacy: 1) There ain’t no playbook for how to deal with a 400M+ community whose demographics are 9-80; and 2) Facebook is simply the largest example of digital oversharing, which is a social computing trend that’s here to stay.
Now granted, it’s unfortunate that Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t been media trained very well but the hyperbole around him being evil incarnate is clearly inflated. Having spent multiple years of my professional career defining privacy and operational policies for a big brown shipping company in Atlanta, I can tell you it’s all trade-offs between improved functionality and user input. The more personalized any product becomes, the more it requires its user to interact with it – and the more complicated it becomes. So let’s stop bitching about both sides of the equation – you can’t have truly social-oriented products without loosening your expectation of privacy. After all, aren’t people on Facebook specifically for that reason? You really think my mom cares if she gets an ultra-targeted ad as long as she can see pictures of her granddaughter? The bottom line is Facebook (in all its glory and stumbling) is defining how the next generation of social-driven companies will deal with these issues.
The other reason I laugh at the hype is because there are 15-20 other social services that represent a much bigger risk in my life – and as a parent, to my daughter. Location-based services like Foursquare could just about be made for a stalker, right? And I know the home address of many of the people I follow on Twitter because they thought it’d be cool to turn on that ‘location-based’ thingy. If I was into identity theft, that’s a pretty easy way to get a billing address, huh? So let’s be real about who sees the fact that I ‘Liked’ a TechDrawl story somewhere in the digital ether. There are much bigger risks, and isn’t all the news just about the ever-popular tactic of trying to knockdown Number 1? Build ‘em up and tear ‘em down – the great American pastime. Just ask Microsoft.
And finally, I say all this for one specific reason: I don’t want Facebook to change in the least. The damnable misery is that all those people from high school found me. The good news is they’re all on a self-contained island called Facebook where I can completely ignore them. Please don’t convince them buy iPhones and setup Foursquare and Twitter. I need my peace…