What Brands Can Learn from Facebook’s Privacy Struggles
June 21, 2010 – Anna Heatherly, Virilion
As any user of the Web and social media knows, Facebook has been engaged in quite a controversy regarding use of
user data sharing and privacy.
The concerns stem from one technology, Open Graph, the protocol that enables users to integrate web pages they visit
into the social graph—the network of connections through which people share information via applications.
More specifically, Open Graph allows websites to capture information about users, including their hobbies, interests and
with whom they are connected online. While this information has been challenging for websites to capture, Facebook’s
goal of making the Web more social—and subsequent adoption of Open Graph—has made it easier to share user
information with the sites they visit, helping websites present more relevant information for visitors, and advertisers
deliver more targeted messaging.
In addition to increased sharing with third parties, the new social plug-in includes a number of features:
• When users click “Like” anywhere on the Web, it will automatically publish on that user’s Facebook wall
• When a user’s friend clicks on a “Like” button anywhere on the Web, it will appear in their respective news
• Personalized versions of websites and advertisements may automatically be presented based on a user’s
interests and demographics
Critics of Facebook’s privacy record have taken issue with Open Graph, saying that the company’s highly developed
advertising platform may become too powerful if allowed to tap into user preferences and demographics.
However, most critics have failed to point out that using Open Graph is optionalFacebook users may opt out of it at
any time. In fact, a person has to actually click the Facebook “Like” button before any information can be fed back to
Facebook or the website they’re on. Furthermore, individuals can opt out completely by making a minor adjustment to
their privacy settings.
Nevertheless, Facebook has responded to criticisms with new privacy controls, aimed at making it easier for users to
keep information private and prevent third parties from accessing their information.
New privacy controls include:
• Updated viewing permissions to friends-only, friends-of-friends or everyone—and extending permissions
settings to past and present postings
• Options for how people can search for a user on Facebook
• An option to opt-out of Facebook’s new instant personalization features and data sharing programs with third-
Facebook’s privacy issues are a good lesson to brands that, while new technologies like Open Graph can be embraced by
users, the understanding and communication of new tools and service changes are essential to their early acceptance.
And as we all know, happy users lead to happy customers.
Anna is an award-winning internet marketer with five years experience in digital strategy and public relations.
Specializing in a variety of digital marketing tactics including advertising, email, search and social media, Anna has
helped dozens of clients navigate the digital landscape to achieve their business goals. At Virilion, Anna helps clients
reach online influencers, build and activate communities across the web, and utilize digital channels to drive awareness
and advocacy. She can be reached at AHeatherly@Virilion.com.