Monday, January 11, 2010

Facebook's identity crisis: privacy does matter

The Crunchies Awards has produced a small (but not big enough) debate over Facebook's privacy strategy. CEO Mark Zuckerberg was far too dismissive about user privacy online during an interview with TechCrunch editor, Michael Arrington (video link here).

Ryan Healy agrees with Zuckerberg and tweeted some nice coverage of the debate. Ryan agreed with Zuckerberg's view that privacy is over. I said I didn't. Here's why...

Blogging and Twitter are the not the right data points for evaluating the state of online privacy as Facebook seems to be advocating. That's not the right way to describe how "people are changing". Those platforms are designed for public consumption. They're equivalent to the cork board at the coffee shop and the telephone pole at the bus stop.

The right comparisons for Facebook privacy are the sidewalk chats in the neighborhood, the water cooler conversations, and even the phone. For as long as the human race has been living in the same areas, we've been socializing and sharing stories. And there has never been a doubt about the people involved in those experiences.

With the help of Facebook, we can enjoy these social experiences in brand new ways and without the requirement of being in the same physical location. It's remarkably efficient, but what makes the experience so rewarding is the fact that the underlying social mechanics are the same as in our physical world.

But people aren't changing. The communication tools are. Let's hope Facebook realizes this before its too late.

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