As the latest privacy-related Facebook controversy exploded in shards of anger, righteous indignation, and disappointment, I was reminded of the lyrics to an old Archers of Loaf song, “What Did You Expect?”.
The chorus is good, but near the end of the number, the following words are barely intelligible amid the din:
You aren’t listening
To what you’re saying
When you say the things you’re saying.
This is how I feel about the erstwhile Facebook apologists and backers who suddenly seem shocked — shocked, I tell you! — that the social networking site has betrayed them with its latest savaging of the putative privacy of its subscribers.
I never have been under any illusions about Facebook. It’s a business, backed by big-money investors, people who aren’t doing what they do for shits and giggles. They could care less that you have a place to share information and confidences with your friends. To them, you are a means to a lucrative end.
It’s not personal. It’s just business.
What I never understood, though, is why so many otherwise rational and sane people believed Facebook was about something more than generating pornographic wealth for its investors and principals. I also never understood why these same people didn’t demand at least a modicum of honesty from Facebook.
Jason Calacanis is a smart guy, but he gets it wrong when he says the following about Facebook:
The entire purpose of Facebook since inception has been to share your
information with a small group of people in your private network.
Everyone knows that and everyone expects that. In fact, Facebook’s
success is largely based on the face that people feel safe putting
their private information on Facebook.
Well, Jason, they never should have felt safe putting their private information on Facebook. The latest privacy fiasco just proves the point.
Facebook’s entire purpose is to make money, subscribers be damned. Well, perhaps it’s not that stark — Facebook needs its subscribers, like a vampire needs warm, bloody bodies on which to feast — but it’s close. Facebook will make money, or it will fail to make money, on the basis of how well it exploits the private information provided by its registered users.
And making money is paramount.
If it doesn’t make money, it won’t be in business for long. Therefore, it must make money. And, therefore, if we follow the logic, Facebook must trade on the private information of those who use its service.
Calacanis gets wise to this reality when he explains that Facebook is “trying to dupe hundreds of millions of users they’ve spent years attracting into exposing their data for Facebook’s personal gain.”
It’s all about the pageviews, Calacanis notes, which means it’s all about driving increased traffic to Facebook, which means boosting advertising revenue for Facebook, which means a greater probability of big-time return on investment (ROI) for Facebook’s backers.
Meanwhile, Gawkers talks about Facebook’s “great betrayal” of its users.
Facebook’s privacy pullback isn’t just outrageous; it’s a landmark turning point for the social network. Facebook has blundered before, but the latest changes are far more calculated. The company has, in short, turned evil.
Maybe Facebook is evil. If that’s true, it was a congenital condition, permanently stamped in its DNA. Maybe it was the Rosemary’s Baby of social-networking sites.
Look, I like wealth creation as much as the next guy. I have no ethical or moral objection to making money, as long as it’s done honestly, openly, transparently. Facebook never has been upfront about its business model, its relationship with its subscribers, its relationship with its advertisers and investors, or about practically anything else it does.
To understand Facebook, one needs to look at what it does, not what it says. It’s mastered the art of public relations and spin, which is why the Valley influencers and much of the mainstream business press have been so abjectly uncritical of the company.
Well, I’m not part of the mainstream, and I’ve never been deceived by Facebook’s misdirection. I was on to them early. I knew the only way they could make money would be by exploiting the privacy of their users. I didn’t want to be part of such a cynical enterprise. I certainly didn’t want to contribute to its success.
As a consumer, I like the idea of knowing what I’m getting for my time and my money. Vendors should be honest about the goods or services they’re providing, and about the duties, rights, and responsibilities of all parties to the transaction.
Until Facebook can be honest and transparent about what it is, about how it will make money, and about the nature of the relationships between it and its various stakeholders, you should avoid it like the plague.
Even a mugger looks you in the eye when he takes you down.