Facebook Privacy: Users vs Customers

Tech Crunch recently published 5 Design Tricks Facebook Uses to Affect Your Privacy Decisions, a very enlightening artlicle by Avi Charkham of MyPermissions personal cloud security service.

Do you know how many apps access your personal information on Facebook? Check your Facebook apps permissions and get ready for a surprise.

Click that button! I keep my Facebook activity relatively low. I thought very low, but seemingly not. I thought I'd have four or five apps engaged at most, but no, I've fifteen. Where did they come from, half of them I can't even remember.

In a Nutshell

A Nutshell

In a nutshell Facebook have changed from the old "Allow" or "Don't Allow" warning to a new friendlier and nothing to fear message of "Play Game" or similar app appropriate message. The new buttons really do just completely ignore that there are any concerns or issues at all. As Charkham points out, Facebook still give you an outline of what's going to happen with your permissions but it's in the light grey text under all the action or more specifics are only linked by a tiny questions mark. Tests show we've been trained to completely ignore this whole area anyway and few ever read it.

The psychology of the change is quite intriguing. The old style was binary; make a choice, go or no go with stated risk involved. It's a question of trust, do you trust these people? This turned it into a risk versus reward scenario, do I want what they have enough to risk my information in their hands? Often for me the answer was no. This was obviously a problem for Facebook and those willing to create apps on their platform, you need massive adoption and opt-in rates when you get to that stage. Scaring people away from opting in just wasn't working so they made it lighter and fluffier.

Users vs Customers

We the users do not pay Facebook or pay for Facebook. Which was fine with us and them, until they floated. When that happens they then need to fulfil certain financial expectations and the core concern is no longer solely for the users but also for the investors. For the investors to make money the customers must make money. The customers making all those ads and apps that is. Maybe rightly so as the investors are the ones providing the vast capital, they're the ones risking their money and the customers are the people paying for our use of Facebook and picking up the tab. That said, we're the ones buying the services of Facebook's customers, so it's a cycle.

Let's not be under any illusions, Facebook has changed from user focused to profit focused. I'm not saying this is a good or a bad thing in itself, like it or loathe it, it has occurred.

The users are still important, key in fact. The Facebook powers that be are well aware that if we leave in our droves due to a reduced enjoyment of the site, it will hurt them. If all those targeted people advertisers want to market to are leaving and the graphs of ad revenue and share prices start pointing down instead of up more regularly, they have a massive problem. It's a careful balance between keeping us, the user happy so we'll come back while keeping the commercial interests content, so we as businesses can be profitable on Facebook.

Everything has a saturation point. It will be interesting to find out where Facebook's is. It's not so much in that we'll all leave the site, just that we may spend less and less time there. Mind you, Facebook have already moved in a slightly different direction with the 'Sponsored Stories' angle rather than merely promoting traditional advertising. So they might have a few more novel directions for us.

What's the Big Deal Anyway?

Is it really such a big deal that they change the scary warning message which divulges all the frightening things they can do and info they have on you? Just get me to the action and stuff I want quickly and stop asking me scary questions. Sure what's the worst thing they can do with all my info anyway? Market things to me that I might like? Don't they know tons about me already?

I'm sure many people feel that way or just don't care, maybe they have a point. I'd counter with the thought that it's better to know fully what you're getting into than not know. Like how on investment ads the voice drops and speeds up at the end and says, "investments may rise or fall, you may be liable to lose more funds than you put in". Good to know before you dive in there.

A Hat You Can't Wear in the Rain? (Flickr: Francis Storr)

Read the Label

If you're buying a property, by law they have to give you full disclosure about it. They can't hide faults from you. Drinks and food stuffs in our supermarkets all have to tell you how much they contain of what, so you can make an informed decision if you want to use their product or not. Seemingly those who read more labels are slimmer, so it does have more benefits than the obvious.

Some areas are legally obliged to divulge all the downsides or potential risk in your purchase or interaction with them. These are usually big areas like food, property, investments and so on, but should our personal information be on the same level? Is privacy dead anyway?

Broadcasting Our Agreement (Flickr: Sootie)

Broadcasting Our Agreement

It's one thing that I've chosen to play your app, game or read your article and you have my trusted information. It deeply irritates me that you also insist on now broadcasting it everyone. On the newspaper apps in particular, when it pops up to ask you to allow permissions of this and that, and tell everyone what article you're reading I don't, I just don't. Why do they want me to share what I'm reading before I've even read it? I don't know if it's sufficiently interesting or insightful to want to share it because I haven't read it yet. If I liked it and think others could enjoy reading it, I'll share it then, not before.

It appears that this is the way things are going, less disclosure and transparency and enforced sharing. After all many of these apps can 'share on your behalf'. The details are still there but we'll increasingly have to hunt them out that bit more than before and for many it will be a case of who cares or why bother. But let's not get too crazy, you can google or youtube it, and find out how to turn permissions off if you like too.

To end on a positive note there must be rapidly growing opportunities in the online privacy and information market. I'd imagine more and more people in the next few years would be willing to pay to keep informed of who has what information, where they got it and what they do with it. Would you?

Do these subtle but significant changes matter to you?


About Alistair McBride

Al is the non-techie of the SelfAssemblySites' founding duo. His first businesses were in cultural tours, then later art dealing and consulting. He was SelfAssemblySites' first user and believes if he can do it, anyone can.

He has a wide and diverse range of interests and passions, core of which are usually art, psychology and innovation, and works on both profit and non-profit projects.

Alistair truly believes that a website can be a catalyst to making any idea reality in the 21st Century. You can create all sorts of non-profit and for profit projects take-off with a good website as your launch pad.

Follow him on Twitter at @WebsiteCoaching.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *