Unfortunately I think it’s already a little too late for me to add to my 2010 predictions, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t highlight that privacy is going to be a major focus in 2010.While many people will point to Twitter as proof that oversharing and for privacy is now rife, it’s FaceBook that is truly leading the charge allowing every aspect of a users life to be easily shared, although founder, Mark Zuckerburg, seems to believe that it is merely reflecting changes in societal norms, not driving them.
ReadWriteWeb has just posted a short interview between TechCrunch’s Mike Arrington and the FaceBook Founder at this week’s Crunchies. Facebook took the award for Best Overall Startup Or Product for the third year running. One of the key questions posed by Arrington was ‘Where is privacy going for the web?’. Zuckerburg pointed out that people are increasingly comfortable in sharing all sorts of information, something that he himself predicted in November 2008, due to the proliferation of other platforms. FaceBook is merely adapting to reflect this change in social norms. He also mentions that if FaceBook were to start today that everything being public would be the default, despite it’s initial emphasis on protecting your trusted network as a user. However, As ReadWriteWeb points out:
I don’t buy Zuckerberg’s argument that Facebook is now only reflecting the changes that society is undergoing. I think Facebook itself is a major agent of social change and by acting otherwise Zuckerberg is being arrogant and condescending.
I’m not sure I agree that Zuckerberg is being arrogant or condescending but it does seem strange that he doesn’t acknowledge the role FaceBook must inevitably be playing in changing cultural norms. While FaceBook does not dominate the world entirely, there is still a bit of competition in China and Russia from QQ and V Kontacte respectively, it certainly dominates the US and Western Europe. With 350 million active users, it surely has to admit that it is perhaps having a slight impact on the way that we currently view and treat privacy, particularly for the generations coming through who have never known anything but easy online sharing.
I suspect that perhaps FaceBook is trying to distance itself from any debates about why our attitudes, and actions, around privacy are changing, due to the furore it encounters every time it changes its T&Cs. Like Google, the more information it can gather on its users, the more accurate and valuable it can make its advertising proposition, pretty much its only income generator. However, how many people would be willing to reveal information on that basis? Sure I’ll tell you all my likes and dislikes so that you can make money off it ad my friends get to know me better as a side-effect? Sweet!. Facebook needs to tread a fine line between seeming to offer its users protection and privacy while encouraging them to be as open as possible.
I’ve already discussed the potential of a social media backlash happening in 2010 and I think with the sentiments expressed by Zuckerberg this week, we’re only going to see more and more discussion over the year on exactly why we need privacy, why we’re so happy to disregard it and what the consequences might be.