Yesterday’s privacy scare was a false alarm, but it showed that Facebook has lost the trust of its users.
Yesterday, a few French Luddites mistakenly propagated a scare story that hysterical and credulous people (let’s face it, it was mainly women and the gays) got over-excited about.
Facebook account cancellations, privacy scrambles and shrieks of horror flooded Twitter as the seemingly false rumour, that Facebook was plonking private messages from 2007 to 2010 onto people’s timelines in full view of all their friends, spread like wildfire.
But even though it has been fairly conclusively disproven, this latest Facebook privacy scare demonstrates why the company should be deeply concerned about its own users’ attitudes to the service.
Facebook has repeatedly betrayed our trust, rolling back layer after layer of privacy, forcing users to share more than they would have chosen to and baffling the public with a endless stream of privacy setting reboots and refreshes.
Now, Facebook’s own users are its worst enemy. Those who quit the social network long ago look on bemused as Facebook users screech and wail at the thought their bank account details, phone numbers and extramarital affairs might suddenly be put out there for all to see.
So consistently has Facebook proven itself to be untrustworthy with your data that users immediately jumped to the worst possible conclusion yesterday, presuming guilt instantly. This is how a serious public relations problem turns into commercial disaster.
Mark Zuckerberg is a very clever man, but he is also a dangerous ideologue whose extremist views on openness and sharing must be kept in check.
His vision and values do not reflect those of ordinary people, and his company must not be allowed to bully us into new privacy norms that only serve Facebook and the company’s advertising partners, who of course benefit the more we share about ourselves.
Facebook is rapidly heading toward regulatory Hell, because its privacy infractions and unilateral redefinitions of the concept and norms of everyday personal privacy will make Google’s occasional slip-ups appear trivial.
We believe the company has permanently lost the trust of its most vocal and engaged users. To win that trust back, the company must show genuine determination to respect the wishes of its users.
In the meantime, most right-thinking people will want to either severely restrict or completely deactivate their accounts.
There should be no more grand unveilings of new privacy settings and newly tightened default set-ups. The company must knuckle down and regain trust by acting responsibly for the foreseeable future and sucking up these scares as the understandable consequence of years of abuse.
The new norm for Facebook must be conservatism. Over time, it may earn back the users it lost, and deserved to lose, today.
Given its disastrous public offering earlier this year, the company will be under great commercial pressure to make more money from its users. But Zuckerberg and his team should be mindful that the future of their company is at stake.
Racing to turn a healthy profit in the next five years under the cosh of its new investors would only guarantee that Facebook will not have another fifty years ahead of it.
That would be a pity, since, for all its faults, Facebook is an exciting company prompting fascinating questions about how human beings communicate.
For now, however, those with public profiles, sensitive jobs or delicately balanced private lives are better off out.