Archive for May, 2010

In Facebook We Trusted

Friday, May 14th, 2010

So, Facebook’s insidious privacy policy has finally broken into the mainstream media. ‘Bout time. And there’s something significant that Zuckerberg et al. is either ignoring or doesn’t quite get – and that’s the trust model between users and information brokers like Facebook.

On Wednesday I went to an interesting discussion “Is the Internet Safe for Free Speech“, in which Richard Allan, Facebook’s Director of EU Policy, defended their recent controversial policy changes. He didn’t get it either.

When geeks create virtual shiny new toys for people to play with, there is a sense of altruistic satisfaction which often serves as sufficient reward alone. That’s why I create shiny new toys at work and at home – because I love making them. But this is also an engineering task in which the toy’s environment is a vital consideration. At work it’s called professionalism, at home social responsibility.

Allan argued that Facebook’s engineers we so passionate and so enthusiastic that sometimes they forgot to engineer a remove button into their toy. Either that’s utter rubbish or just plain terrifying, you decide.

But here’s the key – people will only engage with you and your ‘product’ as long as the net benefit is in their favour. Yes, they will accept some monetisation (toll), but principally the user is in charge – they hold the trust. Or to borrow the maxim from an ancient world, “the customer is king”. Yes Mark, even when the toys can’t be bought.

The trust model is simple: the company must act in the best interest of its customers, and not for itself.

Over time, Facebook has eroded this trust to breaking point. And now the trust is gone. Boof! The perception that Facebook is a friendly shiny toy for us all to enjoy has evaporated. We all loved Facebook because it empowered us. We now see Facebook as nothing more than a shiny honey pot to trade our digital existence.

Next chapter, enter diaspora, a bunch of enthusiastic kids who want to create what we all thought Facebook was. They may not have the perfect shiny toy just yet, but one thing’s apparent – they do get it, and for that I wish them well.