Facebook puts Online Privacy back on the Agenda


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We have reviewed online practices for over 7 years and have always reserved some of our time and benchmark categories to the issue of privacy. This has always been a major concern and a clear barrier for companies looking to encourage online purchases and even down to the provision of a personal email address.

We even had enough demand and interest that we ran specific benchmarks focused entirely on online privacy. We would capture huge amount of data about opt-in, marketing and data sharing practices but over the years, consumers seem to have come to accept that doing business online is a necessity and resistance and concerns have reduced. Less people read the privacy policies and companies have learned that carefully phrased assurances at key data entry points satisfy many customers. Now, privacy is back on the agenda because of the practices of a single company, Facebook.

Facebook grew up serving college students who have a different view about privacy. As one well-educated, intelligent but under-25 year old colleague stated recently, “we have no expectation of privacy, we just want an audience”.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is credited with the following exchange, apparently in early 2004 by Business Insider. Facebook apparently has not disputed the authenticity of the transcript.

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses

[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don’t know why.

Zuck: They “trust me”

Zuck: Dumb f**ks

Zuckerberg’s views may have matured since that time but not changed radically, earlier this year arguing that privacy is no longer a “social norm.”

The latest storm revolves around a feature called “instant personalization,” This allows Facebook data, including your birthday and your friends, to be available to partners like Pandora and Microsoft Docs. All Facebook accounts are included and opting out is a complex, multi-step process.

So far, the service has been limited to three partners — and they have promised to “behave appropriately”. CNN recently documented an example with a 24-year-old who considers herself social-media savvy. She was especially concerned when her Facebook friends visiting the music site Pandora could see which bands she likes.

“I was like, that’s really creepy. I haven’t logged in. I didn’t give it permission. I didn’t do anything,” she said.

That’s a quote from a 24-year old, but a much different user has now adopted Facebook with the largest single group in the age range 35-54 and they do care about privacy.

Has Facebook gone too far? Can we expect a backlash or is Zuckerberg correct that privacy is no longer something we can take for granted.

Terry Golesworthy
As the president of The Customer Respect Group for 7 years, I focus on the online experience of consumers. Online experience has always been bigger than the company website, from the response to email to integration to other offline channels. It has now grown to include social media.


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