For Facebook, violating users’ privacy is going to backfire someday

Eroding trust is a lot easier than restoring it

A settings change at Facebook has once again put the social site in a negative light concerning users’ privacy. Someday, users just might decide that they have had enough.

The change happened in October but was only recently noticed, according to The Guardian: “Facebook rolled out an update to its internal search engine, letting users search the entire network for the first time. All public posts became searchable for everyone, but private posts weren’t affected. When it made the change, though, the social network also removed a privacy setting entirely: it’s now not possible to choose to hide your profile from strangers. Every profile on Facebook now shows up when users search for it by name, even those, like mine, with the tightest possible settings, no friends in common, no profile picture, and no content posted. Worse, if you then click on the profile, a large amount of information is still public: any page I’ve liked, any group I’ve joined, and, if I had any, every friend I have on the site. And although I can’t be added as a friend by strangers — thanks to the requirement that they be a friend of a friend — I can be followed by them, letting them be notified of any future posts. That’s because, helpfully, the ability to turn off that feature isn’t under privacy but under a different tab, Followers.”

Social sites can go astray in two ways: selling users’ information to advertisers, and sharing it with others as research data, regardless of whether those “others” are actual researchers or instead thieves or potential assailants.

The business appeal of making your users’ information available as research data is that it will increase traffic and activity while encouraging people to see the site as an indispensable information source.

But treating users’ information as a commodity for your profit almost certainly goes against users’ desires. That’s always dangerous. Had Facebook asked users for permission to make their profiles public and offered something of value in exchange, it might have worked out fine. But making the change in secret is a problem.

One has to wonder why Facebook didn’t expect massive backlash. One reason is that no social media engine is in a position to replace it, and there’s a chicken-and-egg challenge that keeps Facebook fairly safe: People won’t switch until many of their friends and colleagues have switched.

Facebook also counts on people’s reluctance to toy with their settings, or even look at them. Doing that is almost as rare as carefully reviewing privacy policy changes. Combine those two and you get users who will go with the default settings and won’t know when the company changes them.

Eventually, though, Facebook will go too far. Something about privacy offenses is cumulative, as trust erodes and is just too difficult to restore. It could be that word of this particular change will finally spread — probably through Facebook posts, ironically enough. Someday, the chicken-and-egg challenge will no longer be insuperable, and Facebook’s privacy betrayals will be the edge that a new competitor needs.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Facebook

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Evan Schuman

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?