Zuckerberg, We Have a Problem

May 14, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Branding

Oh dear, Facebook. We need to talk. Because, as my mother would say, I take massive issue with what you’ve been up to.

There’s been so much going on lately with Facebook that it’s both impossible to keep up and impossible to miss. And I’ve tried to stay out of it because there’s simply so much coverage that it’s hard to distinguish one Facebook post from the next, but I do think there are a number of important lessons here for brands who don’t want to become the next Facebook. It serves a purpose to outline some of the ways Facebook is doing it wrong so that you don’t have to.

First off, though we’re talking about Facebook and privacy – no one is sitting in a corner crying over the sanctity and safety of their Facebook photos. Paul Carr tickled himself over at TechCrunch this weekend writing Facebook Breached My Privacy, and Other Things That Whiny, Entitled Dipshits Say. And while the post was amusing in that “look at me, I’m British and better than you” kind of way, there wasn’t a valid point anywhere to be found.

I’m sorry, but this isn’t about drunk party photos or whiny people. It’s about a serious bait and switch.

Here’s where Facebook got itself into a bit of trouble, in my eyes.

They’re trying to force our hand.

Facebook was never a Twitter. You enter your 140 characters of genius and you know that it’s being shared with the world – anyone can follow you, the search engines are indexing it, it’s out there. Facebook was the anti-Twitter. It was for your “real life” and where you went to connect with real friends. You had total privacy and you had to opt people into your information. That was the beauty of it.

Then, Facebook decided to ‘connect you to everything you care about’ and turned all of your private information and interests into public Wiki pages. You grew up in Chicago? Great. There’s a Wiki page for that. You played high school soccer. Awesome. Here’s a Wiki page. You support gay marriage? Cool – go to your Wiki page. And if you decide, hey, I’d actually like to keep my thoughts on gay marriage to just the people in my network, Facebook takes that information away from you. You don’t get to have it in your profile at all. It’s just wiped out.  I’m not even going to touch on how stripping brand names out of profiles and creating unauthorized pages is total brandjacking BS and creates an ORM problem.

To Facebook, this may serve a purpose, but if you’re a user it feels incredibly invasive. Your profile is your sacred space. You created it to represent who you are and Facebook just took an eraser to it.

There’s been lots of coverage about Facebook deleting information out of your profile. I like the write up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. You should also read Tamar Weinberg’s Open Letter To Facebook which provides a stellar background on everything.

They instituted complicated, multi-step opt outs.

Okay, so Facebook is creeping you out. You decide to go to Pandora to go play some tunes and be mellow. When you arrive, you’re informed that Pandora is using Facebook to personalize your experience and that they’re now partners (along with Yelp and Docs). I…uh…what do you mean ‘personalize my experience’? You’re not even on Facebook and you definitely didn’t give anyone permission to do this.

Pandora gives you three options:

  • Learn more
  • Just say no
  • Close the message (which is basically saying yes)

Okay, you say, I’m not comfortable with that. I think I’ll just say no and opt out. Which sounds good, except, are you really opting out? Clicking the Learn More link explains [emphasis mine]:

You can easily opt out of experiencing this on these sites by visiting your Privacy Settings or clicking “No Thanks” on the blue Facebook notification on the top of partner sites. If you opt out, your public Facebook information can still be shared by your friends to these partner sites unless you block the application.

So just because I have slutty less discerning friends, if they opt in, they’ll be sharing my public information to these partners anyway? Wait – what kind of ‘public’ information can my friends share about me? Apparently there’s a new box to tell you.

Who even knew that existed? Likely, no one. Because to now change your Facebook privacy settings you have to navigate through 50 settings and 170 options. It seemed the only things my friends COULDN’T share about me by default were my relationship details. I’m not sure what’s scarier – how much information other people can tell other Web sites about me or that there’s even a box to govern this. Giving me a box to dictate every portion of my online life is the same as giving me no control at all. because it becomes too complicated to use.

They made things too complicated to recognize.

Yes, to change your Facebook privacy settings you have to sift through 50 settings and nearly 200 different options. It is SIX TIMES longer than the policy Facebook started out with. That’s like going to a search conference and looking for the lone person NOT carrying an BB or an iPhone. You’re likely to just give up and go cry in a corner.

As I’ve said before in regards to Google, complexity needs to be optional. Go as crazy as you want, just make it easy for people to get out if that’s not what they want. A five year old needs to be able to land on your site or pick up your product and “just know” what to do.

Facebook has now made its Web site, its partners and its privacy policy so complicated that I’d challenge Mark Zuckerberg to properly set his privacy settings and tell me who has access to which information. I don’t think he could. And if he can’t, how is anyone else supposed to be confident in what they’re sharing?

If you haven’t seen The New York Times and Matt McKeon’s infographics on Facebook’s privacy evolution, you should check them out. The NYT’s graphic is especially scary.

They demand more transparency while becoming less

One of the most ironic things of this whole debacle is that while Facebook pushes users to become more open and to share, they’re becoming less so. Yesterday, the big dogs at Facebook met in a secret, closed door meeting to address and talk over concerns. The result of that meeting? New privacy controls in case your account gets hacked.


  • They didn’t address EU concerns.
  • They didn’t address the very loud Facebook protest threat.
  • They didn’t address the hordes of users deactivating their accounts.
  • They didn’t give users a reason for any of what they’re doing.

And I do think that last part is the most damaging. With all the non-statements they’re making to the media, they still haven’t told anyone why the current system is good for users. They haven’t given us a real reason why we should welcome these changes and give up a bit of our privacy. And if they were able to do that, if they could create a compelling benefit, people are loyal enough to Facebook that they may have hopped in board. But Facebook has lost its voice.

What Facebook doesn’t seem to get is that in order for users to share THEIR information and be transparent, you need to reciprocate that. Otherwise, they feel vulnerable. Your job, as a brand, is to make us not feel that way. Your job is to make us trust you like the ‘dumb f*cks’ we are. Otherwise, we’ll crash your advertising party.

Facebook’s confusing users, creating headaches for brands and targeting everyone, while listening to no one. It’s been a pretty impressive run lately to break as many user experience tenants as possible.

My advice to you: Don’t be Facebook. Run like hell from Facebook.

Update: After publishing I stumbled across Robert Scoble’s letter to Mark Zuckerberg, which offers some advice on how Zuckerberg could save Facebook. Smart read.

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