No Major Privacy Backlash From Facebook's 425M Base

  |  May 5, 2010   |  Comments

Upset users have yet to mobilize negative sentiment about new data-sharing policies into mass action, affording Facebook more time to stand ground. Could the worst of the backlash already be over?

Everyone has a Facebook friend or two who are peeved at the social site for making them arduously opt out of Instant Personalization and other data-sharing pipelines - not to mention asking them to link to Pages.

But two weeks since unveiling such measures as part of its controversial "open graph" initiative, CEO Mark Zuckerberg and partners should be feeling pretty good. The backlash has not been that bad.

It's not as if there hasn't been public pressure on Facebook. U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer, Al Franken, Mark Begich, and Michael Bennet sent Facebook a letter last week, asking it to change the privacy default settings to opt-out. The social site has yet to blink on the issue, appearing to forge on with its plans despite the negative attention.

And the media coverage has been fairly intense. Late-night talk show comics have been banging out punchlines at Facebook's expense. And both The New York Times and Mashable have published "how-to" articles, with step-by-step instructions about opting out of Instant Personalization and protecting personal data from social plug-ins. MoveOn.org got involved last week, creating a petition group on the social site that implored: "Facebook, respect my privacy!" Around 68,000 people have joined the MoveOn.org group since its April 27 launch. On the surface, it would almost seem that Facebook's fortunes were starting to take a significant turn for the worse.

Not necessarily. When you consider that Facebook has 425 million users, the group's numbers so far do not represent much of a dent in the Lamborghini parked out in Palo Alto, CA. In fact, 68,000 individuals represent .016 percent of the company's overall user base, which reportedly has been gaining around 1 million new users per day globally.

In an e-mail to ClickZ, MoveOn.org defended the protest group's numbers. A spokesperson suggested that a similar group it founded in 2007 criticizing Facebook's controversial opt-in policy for the Beacon platform played a major role in getting the site to change to opt-out. That group picked up 50,000 members within the first 10 days. However that number constituted a much higher representation of Facebook's base at the time (50 million users).

"In a community this diffuse, [the 68,000 people now] banded together against an invasion of their privacy is actually a very powerful force," the spokesperson said.

But in the current social media climate - especially for a hot-button issue like privacy, right in the wheelhouse of Facebook's 425 million users - 68,000 does not constitute "going viral." Maybe the group will still take off, or perhaps another will be founded. For now though, there isn't another sizable consumer group other than the MoveOn.org effort dedicated to Facebook's privacy policies.

Unless one crops up, it would appear the Facebook privacy chatter of the past couple of weeks has not resulted in a spirited mobilization among privacy advocates and ticked-off consumers. Instead, there appears to be a disconnect. If you had asked ClickZ's editorial staff prior to last weekend whether or not the privacy discord would be much louder today than it was then, most of us would have answered in the affirmative. Yet things seem to have leveled off.

And if there's no real threat of mass exodus among Zuckerberg's hundreds of millions of users, the only reason for policy changes would come from Congressional pressure to implement privacy rules that don't necessarily apply to other Web marketers. Whether it will be enough to spur privacy alterations of increased sensitivity is unclear. Recent reports involving a Facebook staffer have stated the CEO doesn't believe in online privacy.

If that's indeed the case and if privacy groups like MoveOn.org aren't able to accrue greater strength in numbers, Zuckerberg's probably going to keep driving that Lamborghini full speed ahead.

Follow Christopher Heine on Twitter at @ChrisClickZ.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Christopher Heine

Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.

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