Facebook Privacy Changes: Who is really affected?

There's been a lot of media coverage recently about the most recent Facebook privacy changes, making users' previously private information more readily available in public forums. This got me thinking about how we use social media and our seeming sense of entitlement when it comes to sharing our personal information on free apps.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms are proprietary web-based apps developed and managed by private firms. We, as users, post varying degrees of personal information: from our school and work details to what we ate for breakfast to photos of ourselves and our kids. As users of these free services, we acknowledge (whether we choose to read them or not) the terms and conditions set out by these private firms when setting up our accounts. Whether or not we choose to read them is up to us, but we shouldn't be surprised to find out about "hidden" details in the fine print at a later date if we choose not to read the details going in. This is a basic premise of "caveat emptor" or buyer beware that we use in fiscal exchanges, and shouldn't be ignored online with free apps, especially when our very personal information is in question.

These free web-based apps belong to the firms who are capable – and legally permitted – to change the terms to better suit their business models. Sure, it would be beneficial to their goodwill to be forthcoming and to inform their users up front prior to making the changes. But who are the real stakeholders in the business? Truly, it's the advertisers.

The majority of these apps survive not through user fees, but through ad revenue generated by firms who see the users of these apps as their target audiences. In actuality, I would think that it would be the advertisers who should be most interested about the effects and implications of these privacy changes on two levels:

  1. As a benefit: these changes might open up previously protected data which would give advertisers more insight into the behaviours and preferences of their target audiences, without requiring much effort on their part; and,
  2. As a risk: by angering valuable target audiences, the social media firms could be alienating existing and potential customers reducing trust and causing potential backlash on the advertising firms by association.
Advertisers should be concerned about the effects on their goodwill by showcasing their wares or services on a site that is getting so much negative press. Users can take their content and leave, which reduces Facebook's value to advertisers. Facebook is risking the goodwill of their advertisers by making arbitrary changes that effect their users. They should really think about the selling cycle and how privacy changes will potentially impact their bottom line. It's never about the user, it's always about the money, and in this case I think Facebook might really be risking their revenue. There's been a lot of whining online about the most recent changes at Facebook, but what users can do is vote with their "virtual feet".

If people feel that their personal rights are being violated by Facebook's ongoing privacy changes, that their information is at risk, then they have every right to remove all their details and take them elsewhere (or offline entirely). It would appear that Facebook has made account deletion incredibly difficult, which again is another "badwill" gesture – if users want to go, companies will face more negative backlash (especially online) by making it difficult to leave, than if they just let users go and offer them an opportunity to comment on why they are leaving. One would think that advertisers should be asking to see these exit interviews if there are waves of users planning a mass exodus such as the one planned for May 31.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on this, so make sure to add them below!