Facebook privacy questions should be judged by consumers not politicians

By May 13, 2010 9 Comments

As you may well have seen there is quite a furore at the moment about Facebook’s new privacy settings – see the articles today in the NYT, FT and GigaOM, and it does seem to me like Facebook could be doing a better job here, at least by making privacy settings simpler and communicating what they are doing better.

But that does not mean they should be forced to change their service by the regulator, as has happened already in Canada, and now seems a possibility in Europe.

Nobody is compelled to use Facebook and everybody has the option of not sharing any data, by closing their account.  To me this makes Facebook’s privacy settings an issue to be decided in the market by consumers not by politicians.  Google Street View is also getting a lot of criticism, but this case is different because everybody on Facebook chooses to be there.

Long time privacy advocate Alan Patrick wrote a blog post yesterday which talks about a competing service to Facebook which has been getting a lot of early support – if people care about privacy they will migrate to alternative social networks like the one Alan describes.

Meanwhile, within reason Facebook should have the right to build the service it chooses and do what it needs to do to make money.  Right now it seems that politicians are stepping into areas that should be left to Facebook.  For example in Germany they are talking about compelling Facebook to allow users to create accounts under pseudonyms, which runs contrary to Facebook’s philosophy since the start (see FT article), and in Europe generally they are seeking to regulate default privacy settings in a detailed manner (see PaidContent article).

This matter is naturally of huge concern to Facebook who are holding an all hands meeting on this subject today because they rightly fear that regulators might undermine their business.  It would be to the detriment of just about all of us if that were to happen.

A caveat to finish: protecting minors is a different matter to everything I’ve talked about here, and should be of prime concern to all of us, including governments and regulators.