Facebook’s privacy policy shouldn’t be a surprise

A look at Facebook’s privacy policy and why its increasingly presumptive approach shouldn’t surprise its users.

Screenshot of Liam's Facebook page

As May proved a very busy month for me, I didn’t get the chance to put fingers to keyboard on the topic of Facebook’s evolving privacy policy in a timely fashion. Still, it is an important topic and one that does require addressing, if for no other reason than the popularity of Facebook as a social networking site.

An Evolving Beast

Facebook started life in 2004 by connecting students at Harvard University. As the popularity of the site grew, it expanded its offerings to university students across the United States. With yet further interest and with added investment, Facebook has grown into the massive entity it is today. Over the course of the years, Facebook has rolled out additional functionality and services to its members – albeit not always in an easy to use or intuitive manner.

Still, as the number of Facebook members grew (with now more than 500+ million users!), the Palo Alto based social media company has looked to expand its services. Group pages, personalized URL’s and fan pages are good examples of Facebook’s efforts to develop commercial value for its members – and profits for Facebook.

As Facebook’s worldwide members cross the half a billion mark, we can be sure that Facebook will continue to explore business opportunities, encouraging members to use its service as a valuable medium for connecting with their own respective customers.

Something for Nothing

A key element of Facebook’s value to its business customers is the ability to deliver demographics on a company’s fans. For smaller businesses, which historically have been unable to collect such detailed market research, Facebook offers the potential to access important insights into its customer base. Yet, in order to deliver those insights, Facebook needs to gather the personal details and interests of its members. Our personal details are what drives the insights feature on Facebook. Without specific information on our gender, age, location and interests, Facebook’s insights would be of significantly less value. Facebook has a commercial stake in making more and more of our private information available to businesses.

It seems obvious then that Facebook would over time, perhaps pressured by investors, come to think of the exchange of our private information as a fair trade for the free usage of Facebook’s functionality — i.e., keeping in touch with family and friends.

Even in this age of internet sharing and free offerings, Facebook cannot really offer its services completely for free. It must find a way to cover the cost of hosting 500+ million users. The age old adage of never getting something for nothing rings true here as well. We get free usage of Facebook and its offerings in exchange for giving away control to some of our private information.

The Privacy Problem

The real issue with Facebook and its documented woes with its privacy policy is that it is not very transparent, or user friendly. Admittedly, not everyone is fussed by this (consider the silent majority of Facebook users who do not complain about it on Facebook or on their own blogs). Yet for the vocal ones who do take umbrage with those policies, I share their concerns, particularly from a customer-service standpoint.

As a business, Facebook relies on its customers to promote it. Existing customers (i.e., members) encouraging friends and family to join Facebook increases the commercial value of the website. The significant changes in Facebook’s privacy policy are off-putting to their most vocal customers. That strikes me as a potentially dangerous policy, especially when Facebook’s own executives don’t embrace their privacy policy in practice. Admittedly, it’s not been disastrous yet, but I wonder what will develop in the near future. Might we see legislative intervention to force Facebook, and other social networking websites, to be more transparent in their offerings?

P.S. If you’re interested, the New York Times has a decent write-up on how to edit your Facebook privacy settings.

Well done to Wawa!

Earlier this month, I ran out of ground coffee at home. Eager to not miss my morning cuppa, I remembered that my local Wawa makes a decent brew. Popping into the car, I secured a delicious 20oz. mug of the dark stuff within a few short minutes. (A bit of sugar and plenty of skim milk, in case you were wondering.) Yet, it was only after I had climbed back into the car that I took notice of a stroke of brilliance from Wawa.

Wawa supports the Red Cross

The cardboard protective sleeve around the paper cup notified me in a bright, clear way that Wawa was a regular and dedicated supporter of the American Red Cross. “Hmm …“, I thought, “that’s good to know. I am glad that such a big company is actually a decent one too. I wonder if it’s more than just a publicity stunt.

A bit more analysis

Back home, I sipped the good coffee and thought a bit about the value of Wawa’s support of The Red Cross. There were a number of value insights to be garnered from a review of Wawa’s actions.

The following are just a few points:

  • A highly visible CSR initiative: By promoting its support of the Red Cross in such a visible way, Wawa is broadcasting in a very effective way that it is a responsible and socially aware company.
  • More than just show: A perusal of Wawa’s website makes it pretty clear that the company is committed to charitable/social causes. There is a grant system with a clearly stated set of interests. The press releases section of the Wawa website includes a number of events and programs that Wawa has to support the Red Cross.  Within those press releases are several quotes from Red Cross executives thanking Wawa for their commitment to the Red Cross.
  • Crafting CSR into daily operations: Wawa must go through thousands of hot cup protector rings in a day. That the company used such a regular part of its commercial offering as a method of showing their support for a charitable organization suggests that CSR has deep roots at Wawa.
  • Putting its money where it asks customers to: A review of Wawa’s website shows that Wawa conducted a campaign in January to aid the  Red Cross with its effort to assist in Haiti. Wawa’s customers donated $350,000 to the effort, to which Wawa added $50.000 of its own money. That’s a big company following through on what it asks of its customers. Wawa didn’t just ask for others to help — it put its own money in.  (Of course, organizing donations through its sales system would also have cost money to implement.)
  • A possible reduction of production costs: It would not surprise me to discover that Wawa might have been able to convince the company that prints its protective sleeves to provide the ‘Red Cross’ sleeves at a discount as it was part of an effort to raise support for the Red Cross.

So, “Well done” to Wawa for getting so much right!  They certainly caught my attention and I shall be studying them in the future, looking to learn from their business savvy.

Going the exta step

About the only thing I could say against Wawa in connection with this post is that there doesn’t seem to be a mention of the Red Cross on the company’s website.  For a retail company like Wawa, recreating the inviting atmosphere of its shops on its website seems a natural progression.  I would have liked to see a logo and link on the Wawa home page to the Red Cross website. (In fact, I didn’t see anything on the Wawa website about being Twitter or Facebook.  A check of Facebook shows that Wawa has a very active fan page.)

The American Red Cross is online at http://www.redcross.org; the International Red Cross can be found at http://www.icrc.org.

Blogging here, blogging there

laptop keyboard

It’s been a busy writing schedule for me of late. In addition to my normal publication schedule over at chickenmonkeydog.com, I’ve been writing a few posts for some of my colleagues’ and clients’ blogs. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been asked to contribute some thoughts on blogging and social media with a couple of different websites.

In my role as an associate of The Governance Partnership, I offered some guidance for blogging for small businesses. That particular post looks at some of the blog software options available to smaller organisations, including a programme called ‘Getting British Businesses Online‘, which I learned of from Enterprise UK.

As part of an exciting new blog launched this month by Cockpit Arts, I wrote a piece entitled Social Media: Thy Name is Community Building. The post offers a few tips to those who ponder what sort of material could be useful in building an effective online presence.

Clearing up cultural confusion: Cider

The Setting

Instant spiced apple ciderRecently I was conducting a job interview over Skype, using video.  I was speaking with a prospective employee, who was perched in front of a computer at lbdesign’s London office. My colleague was with this prospective employee.  As may be evident to regular visitors to this blog, I am currently based in Philadelphia.

The Incident

During the initial “Hello” and “How are you?” exchanges, I mentioned that I had just settled into my office chair with a lovely mug of cider. My comment was greeted with an unexpected silence … and the concern on the face of the prospective employee, and the look of embarrassment in my colleague’s expression made it very clear that I had said something wrong. Oops! But what?

Within a few moments we got to the issue: ‘cider’ in the UK is only used in reference to beer cider, like Scrumpy Jack, Magners and the like. So, in the eyes of my UK colleagues, I had just started to conduct an interview while drinking a can of beer (at 10.30 am my local time no less!)

The Resolution

I then spent the next several minutes explaining that ‘cider’ in America can also mean apple juice – with no alcohol.  Furthermore, spiced hot cider is a traditional American cold weather drink, like hot chocolate.

In Review

On a serious note, this funny little incident speaks to the larger issues that come with doing business across cultures. Although I spent seven years living and working in England, this particular issue around cider never previously surfaced because the British don’t drink warmed apple juice.

Now that I am back in the US, I have reverted to this beverage to fight the chill on cold autumn days. And then, by failing to fully appreciate the cultural (or epicurean) differences between me and my audience, I landed myself in an uncomfortable situation.

What other cultural pitfalls might I land myself in?

A minor milestone

When I started this little blog back on 17 March 2007, I did so mostly to help people find me online.  And whilst I do post on a regular basis  (not on set schedule per se, but a few times a month), I never really bothered about visitor levels and the like. My primary objective was top Google search listing results and once that had been secured, I didn’t worry too much about metrics.  Of course, I glanced at the numbers from time to but, but I never paid too much attention to them.

That said, I just checked my numbers this morning (out of a sudden rush of curiosity, as I do pay attention to web traffic levels on some of my other sites.) I was surprised to learn that, according the WordPress.com Stats plugin, there were over 1,000 views on this website for the past two months. Huh! Who’d a thunk it?!?

Thanks to all you visitors, whoever and wherever you are.  I appreciate you stopping by.

Back in the U.S.A.

A back yard in Pennsylvania

As I announced on lbdesign’s website last month, I have now returned to the USA. After spending seven very happy years in the UK, it was the right time to move back to America. I’ve landed in Pennsylvania, a very historic corner of the world. It’s a lovely area, with plenty of trees, hills and rivers. Settling just outside of Philadelphia, life is slowing down a bit as I getting unpacked and settled in.

Of course, part of my efforts with lbdesign will be to build our client base here in the US. We’ve already started working with The Whiting Law Group and Solstice Communications.

As a web designer, I am interested in meeting other designers and developers who live and work in the Philly area. I invite visitors to the site to get in touch.

Sage knows how to use Twitter

Tweet from SageOn Friday morning, I sent out a tweet announcing my joy at the fact that my new MacBook Pro had been shipped. A few minutes later, I sent another tweet joking that I also had to buy a new copy of Sage, the accounting software. Imagine my surprise when I got a reply tweet from Sage.

Here is the conversation:

Liam: is happy that new MacBook Pro being shipped today; not happy that new Mac is for new employee.

Liam: has to order a new copy of Sage today. Not as exciting as ordering new computer.

Sage: @liamdempsey Eh – what could be more exciting than a new copy of Sage?

Liam: @sageuk Wow! Sage replied to me. Called on the carpet for thinking Sage isn’t all that cool. Ha-ha! I guess Sage might be cool after all.

Sage: @liamdempsey Oh yeah, business software rocks – don’t you forget it ;)

Liam: RT @sageuk: @liamdempsey Oh yeah, business software rocks – don’t you forget it ;) … Sage is rocking!

A few minutes later I got an email that Sage is now following me on Twitter.

Let’s briefly consider Sage’s use of Twitter for marketing:

Tweet from SageSage has clearly put resources into monitoring its brand image and into taking advantage of Web 2.0 functionality. Through its Twitter account (and the savvy person using the account yesterday), Sage converted a single user (me) into thinking that the makers of accounting/book keeping software really are pretty cool. As you can read above, I was impressed enough by Sage to re-tweet some of their messages to my followers. And as I have a number of followers (small when compared to some, but still at least a handful), Sage was able to reach those potential customers as well.

Sage is actively tracking what people (customers and potential customers) say about it (by tracking use of ‘sage’ on Twitter), and then engaging with those people in a friendly, joking fashion via a trendy communication tool. Through this technique, Sage managed to persuade a sceptical customer into a loyal one. Job done, Sage Marketing Department!