Published on: May 19, 2010by Kate McMahon
Facebook fans have successfully rallied online to bring Betty White to Saturday Night Live and Trader Joe’s to Omaha.
Now, ironically, one group is calling for a mass exodus from the dominant social networking site, defining May 31st as “Quit Facebook Day.” At the same time, their comrades are posting online petitions and demanding changes, or else.
The hot button issue is privacy - with tech pundits, the mainstream media and hordes of bloggers slamming Facebook for compromising users’ personal information.
While the website quitfacebookday.com only shows 5,398 “committed quitters” out of a Facebook universe of more than 425 million users, the blogs are buzzing with discontent. A Facebook page entitled “Millions Against Facebook’s Privacy Policies and Layout Redesign” is urging its 2.27 million members to lodge formal complaints with Congress and the Federal Trade Commission. I just received one news feed from a friend asking me to sign a Facebook privacy petition and another on how to revise my privacy settings.
In the past month, Facebook scrambled to deal with a glitch which allowed private chat conversations to be visible to a user’s friends and other tech gaffes. But it was an intentional move – the introduction of a new Facebook feature called Open Graph – that added fuel to the fire.
In short, Open Graph gives third-party marketers access to members’ names, friends’ lists, interests and hobbies – unless the users manually “opts out” of that feature. For example, if you list Jimmy Buffett (like the Content Guy would) or Taylor Swift (c’est moi) as your favorite musical artist, you may get a personalized pitch about said singer from Pandora, the internet radio service. Welcome, or invasive?
Even with the opt-out option, people are balking, and bailing.
“If you agree that Facebook doesn’t respect you, your personal data, or the future of the web, you may want to join us,” say the founders of Quit Facebook Day.
Members of Congress have joined the fray, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center and 14 other groups have filed a complaint with the FTC. And Google reports that the top online search related to “Facebook account” is – “delete Facebook.”
As with all things related to the internet, changes are occurring at lightning speed. “It’s clear that we keep discovering new boundaries of privacy that are possible to push and just as quickly breached,” said James E. Katz, professor of communications at Rutgers University, told the New York Times.
And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that “a Facebook official said Tuesday the company plans to unveil new simplified privacy options in response to the backlash from some of the social networking giant's members.
"We have heard from our users that our efforts to provide granular control have made things too complex," spokesman Larry Yu wrote in an e-mail. "Of course, we're working on responding to these concerns, but we don't have anything further to announce."
I suspect it won’t take long. After all, Facebook’s founding premise is that it allows people to be responsive and connected; it would be ironic if the company itself were not responsive and connected to member concerns.
So, what is the retailer takeaway on this?
First of all, don’t delude yourself that all this contretemps means the end or even diminution of social media. This is a speed bump, nothing more.
However, the debate reinforces the importance of paying attention to consumer privacy concerns. It isn’t just on social media; it extends to loyalty marketing, where marketers need to be keenly aware of the fact of privacy as an evolving and growing consumer priority.
If you want shopper participation in a loyalty program, or through Facebook, Twitter or an active website, they need to feel secure that it is indeed a two-way, closed relationship, and their personal information and shopping preferences will not be sold or bartered.
Finally, if you are a Facebook user, check your privacy settings. It can be tedious and time-consuming, but effective. And we should all follow the advice we give our teenagers – remember that once it’s out there, it’s out there.
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- KC's View: