The Facebook Conundrum: When Transparency Trumps Privacy

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The Facebook Conundrum: When Transparency Trumps Privacy

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has gone on record admitting that the company has made many mistakes with regards to its privacy practices.

For the vast majority of Facebook users, privacy isn’t really that much of a concern. Just as it isn’t for the vast majority of the people in the world. That’s the case because, for the most part, people don’t have too much to hide. People generally equate privacy to the security of their personal thoughts, opinions, and ‘secrets’.

They don’t usually extend the concept of privacy to include what hobbies they enjoy, what products they buy, and what television shows they watch. And while that’s the ‘privacy’ area that Facebook is most concerned about―and most ready to exploit for present and future profit―some people will be easily confused and scared into thinking that their personal Facebook posts are somehow going to become public knowledge.

Facebook is far too shrewd―despite recent evidence to the contrary―to put personal communications at any risk of being made public on a large scale. But the company is absolutely, with certainty, going to do everything that it can to ensure that its partners and advertisers can get the most useful access possible to the types of personal information that matter most for profitability.

That personal information creates a detailed profile of an individual as a consumer. Once that profile has been built and viewed by advertisers and corporate entities, they have the inside information necessary to build products and services that suit your lifestyle. They’ll still need to find a less-than-direct and seemingly ‘natural’ means of marketing those products to you, but that’s another problem that Facebook must address in the future.

For now, the company is content to make its privacy settings such that users either don’t understand them, or simply don’t feel like devoting the time necessary to understanding them. In both instances, Facebook is having its cake and eating it too. It’s ‘offering’ various levels of privacy to its users, all with the possibility of micro-managing privacy settings down to insignificant levels of detail.

The reason for that structure is to ensure that the vast majority of users leave as much information as possible available to be harvested by Facebook for use by its partners and advertisers―the dreaded ‘third parties’ that we’ll hear so much about as this painfully boring privacy debate rages on.

Facebook has succeeded in creating the global social network that many had envisioned since the creation of the Internet, and it’s really still in its infancy on a global scale. But the problem it is facing is that it is also a global company, complete with hundreds of employees, multi-billion dollar valuations, massive investors, and a lingering question about how all of that is going to equate to massive profits for the company and its partners.

Rest assured, Facebook is a profitable company and can remain so indefinitely. But it is impossible for the capitalist greed machine to look at Facebook and not become overwhelmed with its potential as a marketing, sales, and consumer access tool.

In the interest of transparency, Facebook would be well-served to simply come clean about its profit agenda, and not focus as much on privacy concerns. Privacy, as most people define it, isn’t really the issue here. It’s much more a matter of how much information you want to share with businesses who want to sell you products.

Facebook should state simply that it intends to build relationships with credible advertisers and partners who are attempting to learn more about the individual consumers who use Facebook. They would like to be able to use the data they gather to create and market products that Facebook users/consumers will buy. The formula is a very simple one. By failing to explain this dynamic, Facebook has made itself vulnerable to fear and smear campaigns surrounding privacy concerns.

Obviously, Facebook would lose credibility and millions of users if private information was truly at risk of being made ‘public’. Public knowledge is different from a public company using Facebook users’ information as a marketing and consumer research tool. And while many people may not be able to process the difference, most will―and that should put the issue to bed once and for all.

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