Category Archives: Social Networks

Facebook Croons New Tune, But Song Remains the Same

Bruce Nussbaum, a former assistant managing editor at Business Week who now serves as a professor at Parsons School of Design, makes the argument that some of Facebook’s current privacy-related woes stem from its inability to remain attuned to cultural changes affecting its audience.

I’m not sure whether I buy the argument in its entirety, partly because Facebook long ago left behind its singular focus and dependence on college and high-school kids. Still, two brief sentences in Nussbaum’s blog post at Harvard Business Review are undeniably true:

At the moment, it (Facebook) has an audience that is at war with its advertisers. Not good.

No, it’s not good. But, as I argued early last year, Facebook was destined to be in conflict with its audience. The outcome was inevitable, resulting from Facebook’s inability or unwillingness to be transparent about the specifics of its business model and its exploitative relationship with its audience.

Facebook was neither forthcoming nor honest. Then, as now, Facebook continues to play a cynical game with those who use its service. It continues to lead them to believe they incur no downside for using a nominally free service. Then, as subscribers drop their guards, Facebook exacts a price, furtively dismantling privacy protections and trading on the sorts of sliced and diced demographic data that advertisers crave.

Now, as Facebook goes through another privacy overhaul, promising to make amends for what has become a pattern of deception and dishonesty, subscribers to the service ought to recall a hackneyed admonition about violated trust: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. (George W. Bush emphasized a variation on this theme, you might remember.)

The truth is, Facebook can’t change. It’s too late. It’s caught in the bind I described in that blog post back in early 2009. Still, even though Facebook is ensnared in a trap of its own design, its audience doesn’t have to go along for the ride.

Calacanis Blasts Facebook

Those who know me realize that I have as much use for Facebook as I have for a hair dryer. I don’t like Facebook, don’t trust the people who run it, and will not patronize it. To my mind, Facebook is the webification of evil.

For a while there, I felt like a voice in the wilderness. When I first began my jeremiad against Facebook, few were willing to join the dissenting chorus. Everybody was too busy doing things on Facebook to pay notice to the critics who weren’t on it.

Perhaps the worm has turned. I think it’s an encouraging sign that somebody as influential as Jason Calacanis has taken pointed issue with Facebook Uber Alles, the company’s dishonest, jackbooted, unethical crusade to subjugate the Internet to its self-aggrandizing ends.

Anyway,, I encourage you to read Calacanis’ forceful, passionate repudiation of Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. It has the dual virtue of being entertaining and true.

Facebook’s Latest Privacy Betrayal Shouldn’t Surprise Anyone

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.

Depressing Thought of the Day: Facebook as Web’s Main River

At TechCrunch, MG Siegler makes the following observation:

Facebook wants every site on the web to be a tributary. And it wants to be the main river.

Really, has the web come to this? What a crushingly depressing thought. If all roads lead to Facebook, it’s time to get off the roads, build new ones, or explore some other frontier.