Facebook: Instant Personalization or Instant Privacy Violation?

In the Digital Media era, the most important good is information. Therefore, information has become the new universal currency, we all exchange information, and somehow pay with information in return. For perspective, Facebook users are receiving an excellent networking service and in exchange users are providing Facebook with valuable information about trends and behaviors.

Based on this assumption, we can understand that Facebook’s business strategy is create a sustainable model that generates a huge and rich database of user that allows them to sell targeted advertising. However, the idea of offering the most efficient user data driven advertising, brings a challenge for Facebook, how to get more and more user data.

After reviewing Facebook’s updated privacy policy, it is really hard to identify any flaws in the content of this policy. Facebook is a certified licensee of the TRUSTe Privacy Seal Program, which ensures that its privacy policy and practices have been reviewed by TRUSTe, an independent organization focused on reviewing privacy and security policies and practices, for compliance with its strict program requirements. The TRUSTe program covers only information that is collected through this Web site, and does not cover other information, such as information that may be collected through software downloaded from Facebook.
 Additionally, Facebook also adheres to the Safe Harbor framework developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the European Union. This implies that the company agrees to resolve all disputes users have with Facebook in connection with its policies and practices through TRUSTe.

Although, the updated version of Facebook’s privacy policy seems flawless, it is the deployment and communication to users, which I consider lacks of transparency.  Facebook adopted the new tools enabling “Instant Personalization” and immediately made its millions of users sign up for this feature without even notifying them, let alone, explain users what this “Instant Personalization” meant to the information they have trustworthily grant to the Social Network.

My understanding is that Facebook’s technological improvements are meant to provide a better product to both players in its model: users and advertisers. This will translate into a sustainable business model that is profitable for Facebook without needing to charge users for the use of a best-in-class Social Network service. Part of being a great service is to be transparent with their users, which are the fundamental pillar of the model. On this regard, I would recommend Facebook to improve the execution of this and future initiatives by addressing two opportunities: (i) Communication to Users: Clear and simple communication to users of the changes being made and (ii) Opt-in vs. Opt-out: Offer users the opportunity to opt-in the new features after explaining what it is about.

Concerning recommendation (i), Facebook has a major opportunity on leading the communication of its product innovation. By not putting any efforts (other than including new questions to their Q&A in its Help Center), they are opting for avoiding any noise in the system, however they are opening the door to others, such as bloggers, politians and their most tech-savvy users talk negatively about the new features.

Regarding recommendation (ii), Facebook should offer users the ability to opt-in to sharing such information, instead of opting out, and should make the process for doing so more coherent and user-friendly.

Bottom line, Facebook is not infringing any laws regarding privacy policy but it is having a terrible implementation for users, which will translate into unsatisfied users that might now not be willing to even listen to what “Instant Personalization” is. On the user side, we need to understand that there is a price for everything in a competitive market. The discussion on whether Facebook should charge an annual fee to its users or not has been in the radar for a while. I’d like to wrap up this discussion with one thought, would users be more willing to pay for the social networking service with personal information in return or to pay a fee to have access to social networking with total privacy?


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