Why it is too late to regulate Facebook

Facebook mat on 151 University

I’ve seen a lot of angst over the past week about Facebook’s moves to open up your data to other applications.

To really understand how huge these changes are I had to get away from Silicon Valley and come and hang out with the geeks in Kinneret, Israel where famous VC Yossi Vardi is throwing an exclusive camp for geeks and successful business innovators.

To be sure, there is some fear and even a bit of hatred here of Facebook. Let’s detail that fear and hate:

1. Facebook has broken an invisible privacy contract with its users. Most of the geeks here say they expected Facebook to be about sharing photos, videos, and thoughts with friends and family. But now their previously private data is showing up on Yelp, Pandora, and Spotify. That wasn’t expected by the users, so has generated quite a bit of discussion here.
2. Facebook is very quickly painting the web with little like buttons and other social widgets. One CEO I talked with, who asked me to keep his name and company name out of this article but who runs one of the top 50 websites according to Comscore and Compete.com, told me his company will add Facebook’s likes next week. He’s not the only one saying that. My prediction that 30 of the top 100 Websites would incorporate Facebook’s likes in the first few months might turn out to be very low, based on what I’m hearing in Israel. But that does worry geeks here who are seeing that Facebook is very quickly getting their fingers (and branding) into a very large chunk of the web.
3. I’m sharing a room with one of Yahoo’s search strategists here at Kinnernet and, while he wasn’t able to tell me what direction Yahoo is going in, it’s clear that Facebook has disrupted his thinking of where the world is going. If Yahoo is feeling the disruption imagine what it must be like over at Google! Facebook is studying metadata from all these likes and other behavior of ours and I believe is preparing new kinds of search and discovery services. Facebook doesn’t need to “kill” Google to have quite an effect, either. They just need to put a box around Google which would keep Google from growing. What happens when Google can’t grow the way it wants to? Flat stock prices and loss of ability to hire the best employees that comes with it. Google is the new Microsoft, the geeks here say.
4. The geeks here say that it is clear that Facebook is becoming a dramatically more important, and larger, company than they expected. So, now, new business plans are being changed to account for Facebook’s new power and stance in the world.

So, why is it too late to regulate Facebook?

Well, first of all, what can government do?

1. They can force Facebook to switch its defaults on its new Instant Personalization program, which is already being used by Yelp and Pandora (you can see which music I listen to, for instance, on Pandora, and that feature got turned on automatically. The government could force Facebook to turn that feature off by default and make me “opt in” for you to see my Pandora music.
2. They could fine Facebook for its behavior.
3. They could call Mark Zuckerberg in front of Congress and call him nasty names.

But what else could the government do? I don’t see too many options. Do you?

So, why is it too late to regulate Facebook?

1. The damage is done. Well, let’s assume they made them switch Instant Personalization to opt in. Who cares? The damage is done. My Pandora already has all your music shared with me. Most Facebook members won’t change their privacy settings from what they already are. So, old users will keep sharing their music and only new members will be asked to opt in to these new privacy-sharing features.
2. The regulation will come too slowly. Government never moves fast. Even when it’s motivated. So Zuckerberg has at least a few months to aggregate his power before Government slaps him on the hand. Government is not going to be able to prevent that top 50 website from putting Facebook’s new features into its service. Government will not keep me from using Pandora.
3. The regulation will come after we get used to new privacy landscape. Already I’m finding I’m getting used to the fact that you all can see my data and that I can see yours. So, if Government comes along and tries to regulate that it will get pushback from me. Why? Well, I actually like the new Pandora features. I’m finding a ton of cool music because Zuckerberg forced you to give up some of your privacy. So what that I can see that you like Kenny G? Users will get addicted to these new features and they won’t take kindly to some government jerk taking away these new features.
4. Giving Zuckerberg a fine will not change Facebook’s behavior. If anything it will just push him to monetize these features more aggressively in order to pay the fine. Just wait until Cocacola icons show up next to all those Facebook like buttons. Government taxation, which really is what fines are, might have a negative effect long term.

So, what can be done about Facebook? I don’t see what we can do about Facebook. Not enough people have changed their behaviors due to these changes. I’m watching and these features are VERY popular. Even here in Israel, far from the hype bubble of Silicon Valley, all the geeks I talked with are impressed with the new features and many are already implementing them. No one sees Facebook as less powerful or less interesting today than two weeks ago. Even with a few of my geeky friends saying they deleted their accounts from Facebook my feed there is actually moving faster lately and my items are getting more engagement, which shows that not many geeks changed their behavior away from Facebook.

Zuckerberg just played chicken with our privacy and it sure looks like he won based on what I’m hearing here in Israel.

What do you think?

About Robert Scoble

As Startup Liaison for Rackspace, the Open Cloud Computing Company, I travel the world with Rocky Barbanica looking for what's happening on the bleeding edge of technology and report that here.

80 thoughts on “Why it is too late to regulate Facebook

  1. Thats the point which i want to make also…….such no option and if u added someone or old added person in your FB, its issue………I have also no bulk delete button like twitter if i have 1000's friends

  2. If it wasn't for a friend's blog over in L.A., I wouldn't have switched the privacy settings for my applications. This really is criminal! Doesn't surprise me as I did hear the whole facebook idea was stolen anyway. But, it's the doers, not the thinkers that get anywhere…

    Sean in 60

  3. Well I think that facebook has annoyed all its users by taking this step. All the rules & regulations should be made clear to the users & before taking such a big step there should be a poll that should be open to all the users. I am still not able to discover that why facebook has taken such a bull shit step.
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  4. Anyone who relied on Zuckerberg's good faith not to flout privacy for personal gain, should perhaps remind themselves of the tale of the Winkelvoss twins at the founding of the business. It is not just that privacy has been flouted that grates, it is the way it has been done with a virtual middle finger shown to the entire FB customer base. Ask Seth Godin, this cannot, should not be rewarded, Anyone, everyone should consider switching.

  5. I agree that FB should use an opt-in system whenever it adds new features that affect user privacy. The downside for FB is that it would have to wait for everyone to adopt the new feature(s). However, I bet they would make the opt-in/out process much more streamlined if they were forced to use opt-in.

  6. I totally agree with this. If facebook was to be regulated, it would take a lot of energy, time and effort. Plus, there would be stoppage in operations. that would be bad for the users.

  7. Lets not forget the privacy concerns of the Winkelvoss twins, Zuckerberg allegedly ignored at Harvard when he launched the idea. So where did the motto in “Zuckerberg we trust” originate in the first place?

  8. Robert, I like your posts but really you should tell us, do you get paid by Facebook? I think everyone should be taking cover from Facebook (or is it 2facedbook). This calling “chicken” of our privacy should not rewarded. It isn't just calling chicken, it is implicit and explicit promise which formed the foundation of the network in the first place. The best response is to switch to another platform and take your friends with you.

  9. Hi,
    I just think Facebook as a service. I don't think that deleting your account will still show up on any partner site like Pandora what you were listening to your friends homepage. I personally deleted my account. And if I'd still had an account, I'd probably not use it anymore, and just delete it. Just mass message every friend to use another service (probably with less fun, but with more privacy) and move you and all of your friends there and start over new community.

  10. Mark, I agree … I also believe that individuals need to take more responsibility for their own privacy; stop using so many applications, and be careful with what you “Like.” Before I even click that stupid “Like” button, I usually click the hyperlink on whatever it is and check it out – be it a fan page or an advertisement. If I question whatever it is, I leave it alone.

    It's not what Facebook is doing (adaptive web/public network).
    It's the way they're doing it. Just not classy with the subtle interface to drive users where they need them.

    Government can regulate social web activities, we really don't want that. But Facebook may provoke more overseeing if it's not careful.

  11. Oops… time and again facebook seems to bring itself into controversy all due to its own deeds. Hope they will rectify their error and soon.

  12. It's not a matter of whining, the role of Governments is to enforce laws, those that don't are mostly corrupt.

    If you look at the EFF timeline http://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2010/04/facebook-t… , it's clear that they are changing the rules over time _without_ me opting in.
    The law in europe is that change of use of personal data can only be done by opt-in permission.
    So if FB breaks European Law, they have picked a fight with a group of Governments.

    More fool them.

  13. This is reality guys whether you agree with it or not. Most Facebook users couldn’t care less about privacy and all these concerns you have about FB here. Most don’t even know there is a place in the world wide web discussing these issues. Those issues could be staring at them in their faces and they would never process it as being a problem. They are there to have fun and contacts. Proof of not being a concern is common sense and the vast amount users and traffic FB still has which keeps increasing. Mistake we make is believe everybody thinks like us. We are internet freaks on top of news, etc. all day, but we have to realize that other people have a life outside the net too you know. :)

    This “FB users have concerns about privacy” has been overblown a bit by news sites. I asked my wife about this privacy deal and she looked at me clueless and changed the topic on me about a primary school friend she was able to locate through Facebook.

  14. Completely agree that it is not straight forward. I spent an hour clearing out stuff, unticking boxes etc.when I first read about the privacy implications. I never noticed the Instant Personalisation button and had assumed that everything else I did was enough.
    It is not really what Facebook is doing as there may be major benefits for people and it is a great business move for them. It is rather the way that they have done it which is part of a pattern of ignoring privacy issues. They could achieve exactly the same goals with better press if they just thought more about what they were doing.

  15. Thanks Raycote. you're so right. It's such early days. We just need experience. imagine the next geenration. Wow, let's hope there's some privacy left. All the best, Simon

  16. It is not only too late to regulate Facebook, it is too late to regulate Google. As you may know, a week or so I decided to deactivate my Facebook account. The plan was to delete it this weekend. However, a few days ago, Nokia announced they were bringing out another Symbian phone. I had been holding out on purchasing a smart phone until Meego phones were available, but that now looks like a false hope in the USA for the forseeable future.

    So I took advantage of Verizon's extra discount for a contract renewal and went for a Droid Incredible. I got it yesterday, fired it up, and discovered that it is integrated fairly tightly with Facebook and Google. In fact, it uses Facebook for offline contact management! Without a Facebook account and a Google ID, it's a nice phone, but inconvenient in the extreme sense. You have to manually enter contacts one by one, and I couldn't even find a way to enter their *names*!

    So it doesn't make sense to get a Verizon Droid Incredible if you're not on Facebook. I don't know about other Android phones, other carriers or other devices, but if you've got a problem with Facebook, you're probably not going to want a Verizon Droid Incredible. So I am stuck with Facebook.

  17. is everyone just getting too overly sensitive about facebook privacy? imo you shouldn't be posting stuff on facebook that you don't want the world to see!

  18. The privacy concern is still there or at least it is among those I talk to who are not in the industry. People are also upset by the way Facebook went about making these changes. Many didn’t feel like Facebook told them in advance what was coming down the pipelines and felt caught off guard by the changes. It is interesting though that some are not afraid of sharing all of their information until something terrible happens that makes them rethink what’s out there. Here’s a great piece that goes into detail about why we should be concerned – http://bit.ly/9NHEKB

  19. i tried that… opened a faux account… somehow it latched right onto my same cirlce of friends… and tried to friend my main account… completely separate details and all e'mails… but i guess i had to open it on a separate computer… even had a different profile in firefox for the faux account … glommed right on to the primary account…

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