Facebook: The Charitable Psychic?

Facebook is making waves again in our industry by rolling out yet another set of privacy changes.  The most interesting part of this isn’t the changes themselves, but founder Mark Zuckerberg’s explanation of them.  Zuckerberg claims clairvoyance and a sense of generosity fueled the decision to change Facebook users’ privacy settings, making all of their data public by default, and forcing users to opt out.

In an interview with Michael Arrington, Zuckerberg claims that the world is moving away from the expectation and desire for privacy and Facebook is simply giving users what they will soon want.  What is this claim based on?  Zuckerberg cites the rise in popularity of blogging as evidence that more people are comfortable sharing information online.

Ok, Zuckerberg has a point.  People ARE more comfortable sharing information online than they were just a few years ago.  However, I think this comfort is based on the expectation that THEY get to choose when, how, and with whom they share this information.

But when it comes to the notion that ALL (or even a majority) of Facebook’s users no longer expect that they can control who sees their profile information and pictures, I’m just not buying it.  Zuckerberg claims innocence – that it is the world that is changing, and Facebook is just responding.  He fails to acknowledge the influence that Facebook has in shaping the public’s impressions and expectations of their online experience.  With 350+ million users who spend an average of 55 minutes per day on the site, denying their influence doesn’t come off as humble and charming – it comes off as purposely misleading.

Facebook has very little to lose, and a whole lot to gain by opening up their “walled garden” of information.  The information users share on Facebook is a virtual goldmine for marketers – positioning Facebook perfectly for their inevitable IPO.

As digital marketers, we know not to post anything online that we don’t want the world to see.  However, the vast majority of people are not digital marketers, and do not understand the intricacies of privacy settings.  They assume that on a site where you have to approve friend requests, they can control who they are sharing their information with.  It’s a fair assumption – one that Facebook perpetuates by sticking to the same basic site functionality it has always had.

So what do you think?  Are Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook the charitable psychics they claim to be?  Are they just giving the world what they know we’ll want soon?  Or are they using their influence to force us to change our expectations about control and privacy online to benefit themselves?