MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL Facebook
(NASDAQ:FB) has unprecedented access to pretty much everyone’s personal information, and not everybody is happy about that. The company has always had a complicated relationship with the privacy of its users. The entire point of the website is for people to put their entire lives and all their information online, but Facebook’s rise has been so meteoric that users haven’t had time to become fully comfortable with that.
A further problem is that Facebook is regularly pretty sneaky in the way that it goes about dealing with user privacy, and nowhere is that more apparent than in its recent update to its data usage policy. The company claimed that if 30% of Facebook users voted on the new policy, then their decision would be binding. The process, however, wasn’t publicized on the site, and users who wanted to vote needed to register with a voting app
. In the end, less than 1% of users ended up voting.
I spoke to users on both sides of the decision. One user was absolutely incensed about the changes. “I voted for the existing documents and promoted the vote heavily on my timeline,” he said, “and I even bought an ad for $7 to promote the vote on my friends' profiles.” He was furious that Facebook not only ignored the users’ opinions but also eliminated the possibility of such a referendum in future.
Others weren’t so reactionary. “If you don’t want something embarrassing to appear on Facebook,” another user said, “stop posting it on Facebook.” He expressed frustration about the knee-jerk reaction that many users have to any sort of change: “People tend to freak out easily…If given an opportunity to vote on privacy changes, uninformed users might stymie innovation and the creation of useful new features.”
The idea that "uninformed users" are all over the site is further evidenced by the (naive at best) privacy declarations that have sprung up in recent weeks;
It’s been well-documented that a good part of Facebook’s financial woes have been due to its lack of a clear revenue source. Recently, though, the company has demonstrated that targeted advertising is bringing in more and more money, and its investors have been somewhat placated. However, in order to more precisely target users, Facebook has had to adopt increasingly invasive privacy policies; if users aren’t going to provide enough information voluntarily, Facebook is just going to take it anyway.
The vote was overwhelmingly against the new policies, but since the voters didn’t reach quorum, the company can do whatever it wants. The new policy is already in effect
, and our personal information is already being harvested like so much questionably ethical wheat. It’s up to users whether or not this works for them, but Facebook certainly wants to head in that direction, and if the election results are any indication, users don't quite trust the site...even as they continue to use it daily.
No positions in stocks mentioned.