by Kristin Burnham

Facebook Privacy Flap: It Takes Two to Make This Right

May 18, 2010
Enterprise Applications

Facebook users want communication. Facebook execs act without thinking. Grow up: Both sides must work to fix the relationship.

If I had a dollar for every rant, whine and rumble I’ve heard about Facebook’s privacy decisions in the past month, I’d be sitting under an umbrella on a tropical island sipping Mai Tai’s instead of writing this blog post. (And, by the way, I’d be smart enough not to post a picture of myself sipping said Mai Tai.)

Facebook and its users have a dysfunctional marriage. Users want transparency, communication and privacy. Facebook, like an overly excited but well-intentioned spouse, acts without thinking through its actions. And now, Facebook users are threatening a divorce.

I received an e-mail this morning from a concerned friend. Kristin, are we all doomed with the privacy changes on Facebook? Should I join the “Quit Facebook” movement on May 31?

My answer went a little something like this:

Facebook users need to relax. Remember five years ago when Facebook introduced photos and the subsequent photo-tagging feature? College students rallied against Facebook, plagued with worry that their less-than-flattering photos after nights of partying would be visible to everyone. Remember the uprising when Facebook opened its doors to everyone, not just college students? Or when the News Feed was introduced? And games? Applications?

Facebook users don’t like change, but they get used to it. Without change, there’d be no photos, no News Feed and unless you owned a .edu e-mail account, you’d still be wondering what this “Facebook thing” was that all of Gen Y was talking about.

To give Facebook some credit, it usually does listen when its users aren’t happy. It introduced photo untagging. It put in place privacy features limiting the networks that could view your profile. It put you in control of what you see and what you post to your News Feed.

But Facebook still has a lot of work to do: Its communication with the public leaves a lot to be desired. Facebook’s privacy statement is more than 5,000 words long—and let’s be honest—very few of us have probably read it beginning to end.

Educated adults had a difficult time deciphering Facebook’s latest changes, never mind the 13-year-olds who also have Facebook accounts. New features should be opt-in, not opt-out, and it shouldn’t take several steps to arrive at a privacy setting that makes users comfortable.

So to all the agitated Facebook users, take a deep breath and calm down. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with a stranger or your grandmother seeing something on your profile, simply don’t post it. Problem solved.

And Facebook: Know that you’re walking a very thin line. To keep your users happy you need to be more transparent, consider reactions and act quicker when you’ve made a mistake. Listen to your users—they’re the ones keeping you in business.