Simplicity Isn’t Enough, Facebook

Let’s imagine you’re the biggest, baddest social network at the dawn of a new decade.  Your size is gargantuan.  Your revenue potential is nuts.  You attitude is cavalier and daring.  You know what’s best for your users, regardless of how much they complain.  And they always complain.  Anytime anything changes, they roar.  

Welcome to the world of Facebook.

Facebook is under pressure from the US Senate about its privacy settings and information sharing with its new Open Graph.  While I’ve seen some social media professionals question if the Senate really needed to get involved in Facebook’s privacy settings, with a huge number of US citizens using Facebook daily, protecting those citizens is an important issue.

So, before Facebook faced anymore pressure from the government, they decided to simplify their privacy controls to placate the US Senators. Unfortunately, their simplification put a band-aid on after they chopped off your arm.  It’s a small step in the right direction, but only a small one.  I’m glad I can easily figure out what I’m sharing with whom and when. Still, there’s a lot more Facebook can do to make users feel secure online when using Facebook.

Here’s what I’d do to make Facebook’s privacy better:

  1. Commit to making new sharing features opt-in. It’s easy to get upset when you sign into a website and find out they added a bunch of a new, public features that you have to turn off one by one.  That’s what Facebook recently did with Open Graph, turning it on for everyone before they even knew what it was.  It could be better by setting it up so even if you personally aren’t opting-in, you’d still get relevant content from your friends who did opt-in.  That way, users can decide for themselves if they like the new features or not by seeing them in action.  The problem with this approach is people may never turn on some features, and then the platform grows static as people keep the exact same feature set.
  2. Clearly Alert Users When the Terms of Service Change. Facebook has a history of changing its terms of service often and without warning.  I understand the need to change the terms quickly, but what I don’t understand is that they don’t alert their users when they do.  Every time iTunes changes its terms of service, I have to click through the new agreement.  It’s annoying, but at least I know every time they are changed, and if I get screwed, it’s my own fault.
  3. Stop Letting App Developers have User Info Permanently.  I still can’t believe that Facebook allows this at all.  I see at least one virus app a week.  Imagine all the data those apps pull from my friends profiles, and then imagine that those computers can then download all the information they want, and keep it as long as they like.  I don’t see why there can’t be a compromise, such as holding the data for three months.  That way, user experience isn’t sacrificed by having to re-download all the same info, but that data is destroyed regularly so users are safe.

SImplicity is one factor to making users feel secure on Facebook, but we also need Facebook to grow up quicker.  Start realizing we want to share with those we connect with, not the entire internet, and stop giving away our information without telling us.

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