Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is speaking out more openly in regards to the social network’s recently implemented decision to make user profiles public by default. At the Crunchies Awards over the weekend, Zuckerberg said that the “social norms towards information privacy are evolving,” noting the recent shift towards public forums that make up our online networking environments. Having created Facebook as a heavily guarded network, however, the speculations around Zuckerberg’s motive for changing his message are now being questioned.
So is Zuckerberg saying that Facebook should have been more like MySpace and all the other faddish social networks of our time? All along, the slow opening of Facebook to more and more types of users granted a sensible alternative to the wide-open social networks that have risen and fallen in popularity. Zuckerberg notes the dangers of remaining stuck in their own “conventions and their legacies of what they’ve built” but sometimes those conventions are the building blocks of what they stand for. MySpace itself is currently striving to return to its core competencies, having departed too far away from its focus on its primary user base. Zuckerberg’s new jargon, some fear, has a similar twinge of corporate fate.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand Facebook’s need to change with the times. So far, Facebook has stood the test of time as far as social networks go, having created a platform that moves Facebook beyond the basics of online networking. As a marketplace, Facebook thrives on its own potential, rapidly seeking the best options towards monetizing its network to the fullest. As a result, several larger interest groups have come along to advise Facebook (and its CEO) closer to success, resulting in the network becoming more open.
Having received a large investment from Microsoft, however, Facebook has undergone some recent changes that appear to be commercial in motivation. Opening up Facebook to all users was one thing. Opening it up to the world and its search engines is a different story entirely.
User backlash doesn’t appear to be too overwhelming, with privacy advocates and other pundits raising the biggest fuss over the implications Facebook’s openness could cause in the future. The growing acceptance of publicly shared information is a consumer trend that Facebook would like to participate in, making more of its user profile data public by default. While certain profile information could be used for various search tools prior to the major changes Facebook rolled out last December, the new found default access to profile data means it will be a great deal easier to get to content users may not have thought would end up on a Bing or Google search engine results page.
Even with changing trends, Facebook could do well to serve as a privacy haven in a sea of public forum trends. Thankfully, most of the privacy options for protecting profile data are still intact. Users will just need to retrofit their account settings to manually manage the changes Facebook has made. Shifting the responsibility of privacy from Facebook to the users, Facebook has incited a battle that it will struggle with for the better part of this year.