This is something that I have been pondering for a while, and if really pressed to answer, I don’t think I do. When Facebook first debuted, back when I was in college, it was just for college students. I have to admit that I was pretty obsessed, spending hours and hours on the site searching for old friends and making new ones. But over the years, Facebook has made missteps after missteps when it comes to protecting the rights and privacy of its users, and only really apologizing or backtracking when the criticism gets really heavy.
As corporate cultures go, I think that Facebook most closely resembles Apple – if you can believe that. Facebook pretty much believes that they know better than all of us; “how this stuff works”, or the way that they say it works to be exact. In the same arrogant and disenchanted way that Apple sometimes deals with things (i.e. Antennaegate), Facebook has handled almost every major issue that has come up with respect to user’s ownership of their information on the social networking site as well as privacy issues like the Beacon debacle. Facebook does a lot of cool things that I like, which make things easier and more convenient, but I am not now and have never been willing to sacrifice my privacy and security for them. Due in part to the way Facebook has handled certain things in the past, it has changed not only the way that I look at them, but the way I see similar services from other places.
When Facebook and Delta announced (Facebook and Delta) earlier this week that you would now be able to book flights via Facebook, I immediately became nervous and that’s not good. My first thought was how long was it going to take for Facebook to start posting my complete travel itinerary to the web without me knowing (you’ll probably need to opt-out not in), how much I paid, or some other bit of information that I do not want to share. When Twitter started allowing you to automatically attach your location to tweets, I never enabled the feature for fear that it might be used for something that I never intended it to be. Now I give Twitter credit, they made it optional and an “opt-in” feature instead of the other way around. Though to be fair, Twitter is still trying to find their business model, while Facebook who doesn’t really have a sound one either, know that in the end its going to revolve around the information that they have about each one of us, and that information is valuable to “Corporate America”.
What all of this really leads back to, is the fact that Facebook as a company to me, does not come across as trustworthy. With over 500 million people on Facebook, it seems that at times, they feel that they can do whatever they want because just about any loss of users will be infinitesimal in the big picture of things. There is currently no serious alternative to Facebook. When it comes to social networking, they are “it” for all intents and purposes.
So what does this mean? Since there is no easy way for me to take my “social network” with me (though it should be) and plop it down somewhere else, I guess I’ll stay. However, I will always be mindful of any change in policy or service that they make. For my part, I have drastically cut down on the amount of time I spend on Facebook and the things that I do there. Facebook is like a girlfriend/boyfriend that always messes up and says that they are sorry, but then just violates your trust again and somewhere deep inside you know that it will happen again, but you forgive them anyway.
I know that Google is working on “Google Me”, but with its recent track record of social products, I am not holding out a lot of hope. LinkedIn is good, but it is for business connections, and MySpace is already past its prime. As I write this article, I really hope that Facebook is rethinking the way they handle their users because those 500 million users are there simply because they “choose” to be, and believe it or not that puts Facebook in a precarious position. Facebook users aren’t tied to them because they need support or maintenance the way organizations are tied to IT companies. Eventually Facebook, a legitimate competitor will come along. With 500 million users, I know that many of you like what Facebook does for you and allows you to do, but do you trust them?