Google has taken some of the privacy heat off of Facebook with the discovery that it has "accidentally" been intercepting and archiving wireless network communications around the world with its Google Street View cars, but Facebook isn't off the hook. In fact, new revelations about how Facebook and other social networking sites share information with advertisers enflame the situation further, and the privacy backlash against Facebook could have consequences for your business.
Does your business have a Facebook presence? PCWorld has a Facebook presence, as does Techworld. McDonald's Microsoft, Taco Bell, Adobe, Apple and thousands of other companies have a Facebook presence. Some organisations, like Microsoft, have multiple Facebook profiles broken down by product groups or individual applications like Microsoft Office.
Many companies have online support forums, FAQs and other resources available, but Facebook provides an opportunity to engage customers where they are rather than expecting them to seek out your company. Establishing and maintaining a Facebook presence--or a Twitter account for that matter--allow the company to interact with customers on a more personal level and foster a sense of community and loyalty.
Of course, if there is a huge privacy backlash and systematic boycott of Facebook, it would reduce the value of Facebook as a marketing or customer relations platform. According to a survey from Sophos, a security software and services vendor, as much as two-thirds of Facebook users are considering deactivating or deleting their Facebook account as a result of privacy concerns.
Like all surveys, though, you have to take this one with a grain of salt. Sophos surveyed fewer than 1600 out of more than 400 million Facebook users, and by virtue of being connected with Sophos in the first place those surveyed users are arguably more likely to be aware of, and concerned about privacy and security issues. Suffice it to say that the survey is not very scientific, and most likely not indicative of the broader reality of Facebook.
The truth is that as the media has focused intense attention on the privacy issues, and a vocal minority is organizing boycotts and "mass" Facebook defections, membership has still been on the rise. The current privacy fiasco is a big deal, but just variations on a recurring theme for Facebook which has faced repeated privacy concerns and user "backlashes" and grown larger and more powerful every time.
With the latest round of Facebook moving the line in the sand and automatically opting users in to new and exciting ways of sharing information that they may not have wished to share, and the revelations of data being shared with advertisers contrary to policy, there are some reasons to be concerned. The company or community page you established in order to have a Facebook presence could be distributed, or misappropriated in ways you did not intend or approve. The message you targeted for your Facebook community could possibly now be shared elsewhere throughout the Internet.
Facebook is out of line in launching new services and changing the rules without warning, and it is out of line for not making any change that affects the way personal data is shared or distributed opt-in by default. But, in the end the social networking site will most likely continue to grow its membership despite any boycotts and defections, and it still represents a fertile and valuable arena for engaging customers and building relationships to establish and expand your brand recognition.
Don't follow the vocal minority and jump ship just yet. It's not sinking--its going full steam ahead with or without you.