Facebook boasts 400 million users and billions of display ad impressions, but the latest privacy concerns have some users threatening to delete their accounts with the social networking service. Additionally, a survey indicates that negative perceptions of Facebook are on the rise among older users. To counteract this, Facebook has issued new security tools, along with assurances that it does everything possible to protect individual privacy.
For Facebook, it's the best and worst of times.
On one hand, the social networking site now boasts 400 million users, and
new data from analytics company ComScore suggests it earned about 176 billion
display ad impressions in the first quarter of 2010, good enough to place it
ahead of Yahoo and Microsoft. Facebook's newly redesigned site, according to
Jefferies and Co. analyst Youssef Squali, offers more opportunities for ads per
page; if its subscriber numbers continue to grow, Facebook's
CPMs (costs per thousand impressions) could eventually pass
Microsoft's or Yahoo's sites.
On the other had, though, Facebook now faces something of an uprising from
users increasingly concerned about the Website's privacy controls and how their
personal information may be used to increase that all-important ad revenue. On
May 13, a European group of data protection authorities sent Facebook a letter
complaining that alterations to the Website have potentially "changed the
default settings on its social networking platform to the detriment of a
user." And U.S.
lawmakers have been urging the Federal Trade Commission
to take action
regarding social networking sites' privacy controls.
A YouGov BrandIndex
found that the "buzz score" for Facebook among users over the
age of 35 had dropped from 26.7 to 21.2 in the past few months, indicating a
more negative perception of the site for that age group. At the same time,
however, "buzz" among 18-to-24-year-olds rose from 32.8 to 44.8.
Given the time frame, that negativity among older Facebook users could very
well be due to privacy concerns.
"Social networks don't have to be at odds with protecting
privacy," said Jeff
Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
problem is when companies like Facebook become obsessed with monetizing every
bit of their members' data, and throw caring about privacy out the digital
window. A responsible social network can balance generating profits with also
On May 13, Facebook hosted an internal all-hands meeting, apparently to
discuss privacy issues. Simultaneously, the company issued two new security
features designed to protect user accounts. Previously, one of Facebook's top
executives made comments designed to tamp down users' privacy fears.
"It's clear that despite our efforts, we are not doing a good-enough
job [of] communicating the changes that we're making," Elliot Schrage,
vice president for public policy at Facebook, wrote May
11 on The New York Times' Bits blog.
"Even worse, our extensive
efforts to provide users greater control over what and how they share appear to
be too confusing for some of our more than 400 million users. That's not
acceptable or sustainable."
As part of the solution, Schrage proposed that Facebook users become
"fans" of the About Facebook Page and Facebook Site Governance Page,
which provide company policy updates. "At the same time, we will work to
make our settings easier and simpler," Schrage wrote. "Our desire to
innovate and create new opportunities for people to share sometimes conflicts with
our goal [of creating] an easy and accessible user experience."
Additionally, Schrage claimed that Facebook cares about users' privacy:
"My biggest concern reading these comments has been the incorrect
perception that we don't care about user privacy or that we'll sacrifice user
privacy in exchange for advertising. That's just not true."
Despite the public-relations press by Facebook executives, however, the
irritation felt by many users seems to have continued unabated.
"Facebook protects its users from hackers," one commenter wrote
"Facebook Launches New Security Feature"
article May 14,
"but raids each user's information for marketing purposes and, with the
recent update, has made user profiles nothing more than a checklist of 'like'
pages, groups and activities."
Another commenter asked, "How do you feel about being bombarded with
advertising and spam targeted specifically to you based on the info you put on
"You should know that when you add friends, upload content, interact,
state preferences, everything you do on Facebook, every action is monitored and
recorded for use and sale by Facebook," wrote yet another commenter.
"You should know that even when you set your privacy controls to a high
level it only affects other users. It doesn't protect your information from
As of 2 P.M. EDT on May 14, about
1,518 people had recommended the CNN article on Facebook.