Facebook’s going public, and so are you

Why the tech behemoth may accelerate the erosion of privacy


Since launching eight years ago, Facebook has navigated an uneasy tension between profitability and privacy.  From the start, Facebook had marketers and advertisers salivating. Forget surveys, forget guesswork, forget market research. Here was a fun, “free” service that somehow compelled users to willingly divulge the most intimate details about themselves. Facebook now owns the most comprehensive and accurate marketing database that the world has ever known. If fully exploited, it could all but guarantee that no advertiser ever waste money on a false impression again: no middle-aged man need ever see another tampon commercial, no teenager need ever again be urged to refinance their mortgage. Every dollar spent on an ad would connect products with people who might actually buy them.

What’s more, if our data were unleashed, Facebook ads could completely and shamelessly be integrated into users’ social lives. Knowing that consumers are far more likely to make decisions based on information from friends than from companies, advertisers have been pressuring Facebook from the start to open up more and more user data for use in campaigns. And Facebook has slowly complied, first with its ill-fated Beacon program and now with its Timeline Apps.

But Facebook has yet to fully sell out its users. It has carefully and slowly nudged us two steps at a time out of our privacy comfort zones, and then retreated one step back when inevitable backlashes arise. It has placated privacy commissioners and quietly settled lawsuits, all the while grooming users for greater degrees of disclosure. It endured early criticism that its revenue was disappointingly out of whack with its staggering popularity. It could withstand this negativity and expose us at its own pace, because it was a private company.

No longer.

As a publicly traded company, Facebook will now be legally obligated to do everything it can to always increase revenue for its shareholders. Though it has seen remarkable revenue growth in the past few years, it’ll take much more to justify its evaluation and satisfy rabid investors who will want to see quick gains, lest Facebook be seen as “the next Groupon,” a failure out the IPO gate.

Luckily for Facebook, it has been hoarding its most valuable asset, which it can exploit at any time for a quick boost: You.

Jesse Brown is the host of TVO.org’s Search Engine podcast. He is on Twitter @jessebrown

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Facebook’s going public, and so are you

  1. They are going to make the Timeline feature mandatory very soon. If you had a Wall set to Friends Only, all that info becomes public. You have one week to go in and change the permissions on EVERY SINGLE POST. The is a blatant violation of privacy, I hope the Feds nail them for it!

    • I don’t get it.  Everyone using facebook should be fully aware of the type of info they give.  Its not a big secret and Im pretty sure prior to using an app, or FB itself you are required to give permission and acknowledge your info will be used.

      It seems like a simple case.  If you don’t want your info used than stop using FB.  The people feeding the monster (i.e. FB users) don’t really have the right to complain if it grows.

      • If people had to opt in on new features then I would agree.

        However, everytime they roll out a new feature that changes all sorts of previous settings, you have to go back and opt OUT.

        Given that, there is more than enough of a case for people to say they were taken unaware.

        The courts always side with the person whose information is in question unless the other side can PROVE the person knew better.

  2. 1.  I never post anything on Facebook I don’t want the whole world to know, even things set as “friends only”.
    2.  I never permit any external apps on Facebook.
    3.  I never look at the ads.

    Nonetheless, I still am unsure of the bargain with the devil I have made as a Facebook user.

    But I’m from a different generation than the target demographics for Facebook and its advertisers.

  3. Spot on, the pressure will be on to make gobs of money and how else will they do it but profit from the only thing they got your data. I wonder if this might mean the slow decline of facebook? Will users recognize this aggressive change in nature and move to much more responsive social platforms?

    • The decline of faceberia is already assured.  They’re using the same self-destruction plan as did myspace before them.

      First they break or remove those features that people used or liked the most, and then they make it impossible to control your own information, the way your page looks, etc.

      Eventually, people simply find something else that’s got most of the features that they like and they jump ship.

      With each new failure to protect their users, their users are more and more actively searching for a replacement to move to once they’ve finally had enough…and there are several replacements available today.

  4. Jennifer Stoddart – HELP!!!

  5. While certainly there could be extra pressure to decrease privacy due to going public, the idea of this translating into a “legal” obligation to do so  likely doesn’t wash.  While directors mustn’t act against the interests of their companies, the doctrine of the business judgment rule gives a great deal of discretion about the best way to go about business. 

  6. Don’t think so: “Facebook will now be legally obligated…”. Can you back that up?

  7. Or why I never agree to use it or any of the other so-called “social” networks

  8. I have never nor will ever use FaceBook (nor its ilk) =I’m sure the world cringes at my decision) the reason is the continual erosion of privacy that they all display =eventually=.  Nor will I ever use an Android Phone, for the very reason that in order to backup the content or access your phone from your computer (Texting/Calendar.PhoneBook) you need a G00Gle account and your information then resides in a G00Gle cloud.

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