Facebook Not Understanding Opt-In is Like Universal Missing Digital Music


Facebook Beacon NotificationThere are a lot of smart people who have weighed in on the Facebook Beacon issue and Mark Zuckerberg’s apology today, and while I have not had time to read it all, it pretty much equates to a lot of bad PR for them. Then again, as they say in show business, any PR is good PR. This just furthers the broad, mainstream awareness of Facebook as a Social Networking Platform.

In the end, my take is that this is actually great for Facebook despite some of my scathing commentary below.

As Dave McClure points out today, the majority of FaceBook users who are uninformed consumers will look at this, and FaceBook’s response without the cynicism that all of us longtime observers have and without the scorn for the obviousness of their mistake. While I respect Dave, and agree with many of his points, he misses out on the fact that having FaceBook know everything I do, nearly everywhere on the Web was not part of the Faustian bargain we made when we signed up. Wasn’t it somewhere around 1998 when EVERYONE realized the only way to gain trust with users was through opt-in policies? In reading Mark Zuckerberg’s well crafted statement produced by an army of PR professionals and lawyers, I stopped in my tracks when I read:

The problem with our initial approach of making it an opt-out system instead of opt-in was that if someone forgot to decline to share something, Beacon still went ahead and shared it with their friends.

Well yes Mark, that is the problem with opt-in systems, it does things that people don’t necessarily want it to do. How can someone forget to decline to share something, when they aren’t even aware the system is really sharing it in the first place? Kristie and I found out about this firsthand when managing our queue on Blockbuster. She didn’t notice the small little window that popped up in the lower right corner, I merely remarked – “wait, what was that?” Only on the 3rd instance did we actually see what it was doing and get there in time to “remember that we wanted to decline sharing something”.

Despite the minimal macro effects this has on the company, I have a ton of disdain and scorn for Mark agreeing to make this clearly moronic statement as part of his broader post…. but wait, there’s more. The very next line in his statement is even more offensive (and demeaning to his colleagues who tried to do the right thing):

It took us too long after people started contacting us to change the product so that users had to explicitly approve what they wanted to share.

What about all the smart people on their staff who realized this was silly? What about all the people who complained about the early spamming incidents of lead FB App developers who automatically sent invites to all of a person’s friends when adding an app? What about all the partners who agreed to implement this technology, and the smart people on those teams who most likely asked the same question all of us have been asking? Even now in reading this, I am concerned that they still have not understood how far from reality their philosophical understanding of privacy issues in social networks really is. I mean, doesn’t FaceBook, as a general principle, confine what is being shared only to those we agree to share this information with, even giving us the option of only sharing a “limited profile” when adding them?

Hmmmm – I don’t know Mark, so I can’t make a reasonable judgement on him personally, but I have had the pleasure of speaking with Dave Morin, their platform architect. I have to say, I expected better of him then this – he really seems to get it – though like Mark, I believe they are still young entrepreneurs and are perhaps not seasoned enough to be running the nation state that is FaceBook. Which is why perhaps these moves are indicative of the fact that they are not really running the show, or that the pressure has them relying on more experienced executives and the investors for advice instead of their own instincts. Perhaps we just need to form an advisory board of straight shooters who they could really rely on for hearing it straight, to support them as individuals and leaders of the FaceBook Nation.

A good point was made by Tom Foremski last week at the Something Simpler Systems conversation on Mining the Social Graph that I helped produce with my partner Ted Shelton. Tom said, paraphrasing “What if trying to monetize these social environments merely pollutes them and destroys the real value they hold for the people who are there. They aren’t participating in FaceBook to make money, or to make money for others, they are there because they want to be social!” His post on MSFT: Setting Up Facebook For Failure, is a must read on this subject. In looking at the FaceBook Beacon fracas, I have to wonder who is really in charge, and if the eagerness to prove monetization means that the evil greedy stupid marketers are the ones really in charge.

Who is FaceBook’s Dick Cheney anyway? While Mark takes the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, someone behind the scenes is sitting on their private jet saying “Oh well, that didn’t work. How did the market do today?”, all the while leaving Mark to take the fall with silly statements like this one today. But wait, it gets worse, and now I wonder if he has some septugenarian crisis management expert writing his statements instead of a digital native:

Last week we changed Beacon to be an opt-in system, and today we’re releasing a privacy control to turn off Beacon completely. You can find it here. If you select that you don’t want to share some Beacon actions or if you turn off Beacon, then Facebook won’t store those actions even when partners send them to Facebook.

I know everyone else out there has made this point ad nauseum, but really, how can you dare claim it was changed to an opt-in system when your partners are still collecting data on our use of their sites and sending it to you? It seems as if whoever is really in charge over there is overly tempted by the apples of user behaviour on the tree of knowledge that they not only took the first bite, they just cant stop themselves… let’s hope this sin is not infectious.

Let’s be clear about this for everyday, non technical folks. To say it is an opt-in system means that it should be off completely until you opt for it to be turned on at all. This version of what they call opt-in is a mutant merman, like the one that saves Lois on a recent Family Guy episode. Its completely upside down and misses the point. This is why I think it is the equivalent of Universal Music’s CEO Doug Morris claiming there “wasn’t a thing he or anyone could have done differently“.

For Mark to make a claim like the one above, calling the ‘improved’ beacon program opt-in, demonstrates a cluelessness of gigantic proportions. Of course, the bigger problem I see here is that Mark is being forced to make such statements, not realizing that in today’s world, regardless of the multi-billion dollar corporate interests at stake, we are, as the original users of The Well stated so eloquently, “You Own Your Own Words“. So take responsibility and stand up for what is right Mark, don’t let them play you like this…

I want to thank you for your feedback on Beacon over the past several weeks and hope that this new privacy control addresses any remaining issues we’ve heard about from you.

Of course it doesn’t Mark, and you are seemingly smart enough to know this. I thought the practice of SPIN was dying, particularly with your generation which has even less tolerance for BS then the rest of us. Please stop trying to defend this egregious invasion of privacy and do the right thing. While I am sure that the mainstream parts of society and the uninformed won’t care about, or remember this a few months from now, WE won’t forget. So, let’s chalk it up to being an experiment gone awry, and rather than continuing to try to defend it, work with US to openly craft a better balance of privacy, social signaling and monetization opportunities. If we work together, I am sure we can come up with something that could really work for us instead of against us.

Doc Searls really drove home an important understanding about the bigger issues at play here in his series of posts about Making Rules. I may be interpreting it slightly differently, but these eloquent series of posts support what I have been thinking about regarding Social Media’s ability to tear down the walls that make an individual’s interaction with a company an us vs. them proposition. This isn’t about the Executive Team at Facebook making decisions separately of its users, though they certainly have the right to do so as they are the one’s in charge. It is my opinion, that in the modern market, particularly for a social media company, it is imperative that the leadership thinks about it from the perspective of all of us working and creating our online communities together. As my wife Kristie Wells reminded me again, if it weren’t for our contributions, there would be no value in the company – we are absolutely the co-creator of this company and should be respected as such.

Of course, as Dave McClure and many others will tell me, if I don’t like it, I can just leave – just as many Americans said about what they would do if Bush was re-elected President. Like most of my friends (who still live in San Francisco 3+ years later), I would rather stay and work to create change from the inside, not by leaving the FaceBook Nation, but by being a part of the conversation and contributing towards positive change…

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4 comments
Chris Heuer
Chris Heuer

good point Annie - we all need to do what is right for us

annie heckenberger
annie heckenberger

You know, I wanted to take the high road after I read your post. I truly did. Then my complaining compatriot Colin Devroe went and did what he and I have contemplated and threatened to do for months - stop complaining about the communities we no longer found value in/disliked and actually step out of them. Colin went further than me by exiting several social networks and he did so because he wasn't finding value in-community anymore. He's most active in Viddler (rightfully so, since he works for them!) and chose to make that his primary community. I felt like I had to stand behind my opinion also. I have been enormously unhappy with FB. I feel that they betrayed me. They aren't the community they said they were when I joined. And rather than complain and continue my angst, I chose to show them my displeasure in way that might affect them: by lessening their community by one. They can't count me anymore in their annual report or their ad units. Since they refused to hear my voice on the matter, hopefully they will eventually feel my loss in their pockets.

Chris Heuer
Chris Heuer

The problem with Boycotts is 1) they provide more attention for the people involved 2) they use a lot of negative energy that could be focused better and 3) they are discriminatory against girlcotts (jk) Seriously, its a tough spot - to no longer be a part of Facebook, you miss opportunities to interact with people you care about and to know what's going on. Of course, if there was an easy way to export your social connections and take it somewhere else, this would be a lot easier to do - but of course, that is why they don't let you do it... Annie - thank you for sharing your perspective and your decision, I think it is the right one of course, but there are other alternatives. Perhaps rather than organizing a boycott and opting out entirely, you might find an alternative network that has respect for user's rights and encourage your friends and others to migrate to there instead... For now, I dont have the time or energy to be more than a commentator, but will advocate more strongly for the widespread adoption of The Users Bill of Rights - http://opensocialweb.org/2007/09/05/bill-of-rights/

Annie Heckenberger
Annie Heckenberger

I just read this outloud to a colleague that has been working (and sharing frustration) in FB with me. Your last point just stopped me short of deleting my FB profile. I was planning on doing that today, but you know what, I'm keeping it and I will use it to periodically check in and contribute to the effort to correct the wrongs of a community that started out so right. Great post.

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