Facebook’s announcement that is has refreshed its privacy and transparency is a good step but the whole saga just shows the internet industry doesn’t care about you unless it has to.
Back in 2006, your correspondent joined Facebook and it was great. The news feed was filled with photos of the previous night, updates from friends and prods about upcoming events; how things have changed. Finding a post from someone you actually know between adverts, promoted news stories or the latest meme is a tricky business. But this is demonstrative of Facebook’s attitude towards the platform; commercial objectives trump the user.
In a blog post written by Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan and Deputy General Counsel Ashlie Beringer, Facebook has announced it is changing its privacy policies to help users understand how Facebook works and the choices they have over their data. Privacy settings and other important tools will also be easier to find as the social media giant has apparently heard the cries of the community.
This is all well and good, but don’t be fooled by the good intentions plea; Facebook has always known what it was doing and it still does.
Going on face value, some might assume the internet giant simply made a mistake. It lost its way and is now trying to rectify its well-intentioned oversight. Privacy was always a concern of the team but hindsight is 20/20 and it is correcting errors. This is perhaps the biggest load of BS we have come across in months.
The platform started in 2004 in a dorm room of Harvard University, initially limiting the website’s membership to Harvard students. It was a project which allowed students to be creative and soon caught on before being launched across the US and then globally. In the early days, the creators might have had innocent intentions to make a social platform which engaged people, but since then investors arrived and prompted the rise of the money-machine.
How engaging the platform actually is should be a measure of how much emphasis is being placed on user experience; it’s going down. As mentioned before, the platform is almost unrecognisable compared to what it was back in 2006, hence the reason younger generations are flooding to platforms such as Snapchat which has a greater emphasis on experience as opposed to monetization.
The problem is Facebook is very good at making money. It is very good as developing a platform which places content in the right places. It is exceptionally good at managing the user journey, guiding individuals towards the right areas and the relevant tools. In terms of presenting information in a digestible context, it is incredibly good, this is the reason advertisers have flooded onto the platform.
The Facebook team knew it wasn’t easy to access the relevant information or tools to control privacy, or manage your own digital profile. If a platform is able to identify you are about to get married and effectively present useful information about venues, caterers or stag organizations, it almost certainly was capable of educating the user on privacy and the process of relaying your personal information onto other parties.
Facebook is making corrections to its policies, which is long overdue, but not because it wants to, because it is backed into a corner and this is one prong in the PR strategy to re-earn the users trust. This is the reality of the internet industry; these guys care about you about as much as an oil company.
The changes are a positive step forward, but they could have been made three years ago. Any sensible person would have known the advertising machine and dissemination of personal information would have been negatively received by the general public. A choice was made years ago because the path Facebook took was better for the spreadsheets.