Facebook Conquers the Web?

If your “friends” are anything like mine, your Facebook status feed lit up yesterday with reactions to the latest Facebook privacy settings change as Facebook works toward integrating itself with major third party sites across the web.

The “new” privacy settings allow Facebook to share the basic information about you in your Info tab with third party sites. Check out the CNN.com front page and you may be startled to find a featured Facebook plugin  that tells you what news stories your friends have liked and recommended.

Click on the news story itself, and you’ll see what will soon become the ubiquitous Facebook “Recommend” button right there at the bottom of the story where the social bookmark tags generally are. The trick is that this time, you’ll also be able to see how many people have recommended it and whether or not any of them are your Facebook contacts.

Bookmarking is nothing new, of course. Sites like Stumbleupon have been doing the same thing for eons (in internet time), but the reaction to Facebook’s dabbling with  social bookmarking are much more intense.

In part, this springs from the mistaken assumption that much of what we put on Facebook is, by default, private except to those we choose as “friends.” This may have been more or less the truth when the website first got off the ground, but these days nothing you put onto Facebook is private by default, and users are increasingly finding themselves spending more and more time editing their privacy settings, a practice that some may soon liken to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

What many social media users are coming to realize is that the primary ways social media sites make money is by sharing information.  It’s how Google does it. It’s how Facebook does it. Everything and nothing on the web is free. A company either shares your actual data or anonymous user data with a third party which can then market messages to you or use that data for its own R&D purposes. The only other ways we’ve found to create sustainable systems to fund online tools is to self-fund through donations or to require paid accounts and/or premium services.

As someone who more or less grew up with the internet (I got my first AOL account when I was 14, and had logged into dim places like Prodigy as young as 12), I can’t help but find some of the reactions to Facebook’s tricky “privacy” settings a little naïve. This is the third or fourth time Facebook users have made outraged cries about privacy settings which then died down, generally amid talks of paid or premium services. You have to pay to play. What are you willing to part with to connect with far-flung family, colleagues, and relations, all in one place?

Everything we put online is traceable. Every comment, “like”, blog post, diabtribe, snarky retort, term paper, website… the internet is a public place. Even “protected” information is hackable. Websites like Facebook or the more lockable Livejournal are like getting one of those dinky diaries with the cardboard flap and cheap metal locks. All that’s standing between the world and your data is a pair of scissors. Today, the biggest difference is that as opposed to your mom finding out where you really were on Saturday, it’s your entire school that finds out… and boingboing.net. And CNN.

Information is power, and that’s never been more true than today. In this world, you must think carefully about what you say and how you’re saying it, and you must be prepared to stand by your statements – or explain why you changed your mind (The good news is that for those of us who were digital pioneers, the days when you’re the only one with dirt on the web are pretty much over. All of your coworkers are Google-searchable too). As a business, this means that how you handle your social media strategy, your online persona, your tone, your brand, your… well, YOU… is absolutely essential. Online, there’s nowhere to hide your dirty laundry. As a consumer, I think this is a fantastic thing, and as a marketer, I look forward to working with companies to clean things up.

I think that debates about online privacy come from expectations of a place that no longer is, a place where President Roosevelt was never photographed in his wheelchair because it would be disrespectful to his office. Today, very little is private, or truly personal. Those few things that are will be things that we value and cherish highly, and rightly so – that information is powerful, powerful enough to change the face of the way we interact with the world, and each other.

Penny Ohlmann Neimann

The Ohlmann Group has a rich history that began in Dayton, Ohio in 1949, where the agency was founded as Penny and Penny by Bob Penny and his wife Jean. In 1964, Walter Ohlmann joined the firm. Ralph Neiman came on in 1969 and the firm became Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman. In 2011, P/O/N was renamed The Ohlmann Group to better reflect the agency's ongoing evolution and collaborative nature.

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