Thursday, December 01, 2011

Facebook gets its hand slapped; but public has to accept that "free" social networking has a price (e.g. advertisers who need your info)

There’s a lot of buzz about FTC’s settlement with Facebook.  It’s obviously essential before any attempt to do a big IPO in 2012.  

Facebook has agreed to seek the approval by its users (I’m not sure how) and to remove all information from deleted accounts within thirty days, among other provisions. 

Mark Zuckerberg wrote a post (“Our Commitment to the Facebook Community”) on the corporate blog explaining the settlement here.  It’s interesting that he mentions “selecting your audience” as his first dot point.  That’s how social networking is so fundamentally different in purpose from simple publishing, even if the practical effect is often similar. 

Helen A.S. Popkin wrote a story on MSNBC that relates a not-so-nice email he wrote about all the personal info submitted to him in college, (website url) here.  The article goes on to note the effort still needed to increase privacy settings, and your actual name and profile image cannot be private.   One of the sublinks here complains about the Facebook cookies employed when non-users visit member’s profile pages or (if public) walls.  

CNN Money has an article by Julianne Pepitone with a video "New Facebook features: You life on display", here.

Personally, I subscribe to the tautology that you can’t get something for nothing. For Facebook or any company (Google+, Myspace, etc) to offer a comprehensive social networking experience – understood even as having a “social” purpose – and not charge membership, it needs to expect users to surrender a little control of “privacy” so that advertisers can reach them and have a reasonable chance of increasing sales because of exposure on Facebook.  So a social networking site like Facebook isn’t “free” anymore than broadcast TV used to be; one way or another, the public has to accept the role of advertisers.  Of course, this role might be regulated.  But too much well-intended privacy-motivated regulation (like going to heavy on “do not track”) could make it unprofitable for companies to offer the services that made the Internet what it is today.  Ultimately, other companies ("sponsors") have to be able to sell (to social media and blogging platform users) electric Volt cars, or LGBT movie DVD's, or cruises to Antarctica or maybe space travel rides to keep other people employed.

So would too much exposure to downstream liability (SOPA and Protect-IP), indeed make it impossible for the "user generated content" model of today's Web to continue to operate.

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