Famous last words…

Okay, okay, I promised you this was the last word on the Blackadder affair. But since then, other last words worth reading are here (Tales from the Net) and here (MyDD).

On top of that, I actually met Facebook’s Privacy Director last week, and he’s a very nice guy. He told me a story (which I believe, honest!) that tallies pretty much with both these accounts. They make do with a customer care team that sounds large enough until you realise that their 65 million active (yes, you heard right, 65m using it in the last month…) punters are shared out to the ratio of about one staffer to the population of Leeds. At the same time they have a bunch of issues of such priority (eg child protection) that they need to give those very fast turn-around. This means they automate as much as they can, and (reading between the lines) a lot between the automation and the tricky stuff just falls through the gap – Hence Derek’s brief stay in Facebook limbo.

Like Anne said, it’s the difference between two strands of 2.0 that people often conflate because of outward appearances rather than business models. Just because a community like Wikipedia gets by managing the support themselves, that doesn’t mean a company like Facebook (with a customer rather than collaborator relationship) can do away with customer services.

Anyway he also told me a bunch of other stuff they’re working on, which the MyDD piece picks up on. Removing the 1,000 group mail cap (with opt out) and providing migration paths for people wanting to take their work out of the site when they go (of course not much use if you don’t know where to plug it in, but it’s promising nonetheless). These will hopefully make it less scary for union organisers to try experimenting with. Also very helpful will be promised Friendlist privacy controls, to subdivide your friends into categories and reveal more or less to each group.

Pls to share (thanks!):

7 thoughts on “Famous last words…

  1. Never say never — thanks for the mention, John!

    I’ve also met Facebook’s Chief Privacy Officer — I sat next to him on a plane when we were both flying to the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference a couple of years ago — and also think he’s a good guy, very intelligent and strategic, and very much wants the right thing to happen. They’ve gone a long way to make Facebook a better climate for activists, introducing things like Causes (which are incredibly powerful). And from their perspective, all of their support for activism isn’t bringing in any advertising money; so it’s not unreasonable for them to prioritize their business.

    The risk from their perspective is that too many people are going to start falling between the cracks and getting deactivated. Once that’s happened enough, especially considering their other trust issues, people will start moving elsewhere.

    On the other hand, if you look at it differently, there are so many good communications mechanisms on Facebook that once you know where the restrictions are, you can route around them; so if they’d just stop with the ‘summary judgement’ stuff, give moderators of large groups some training, and (over time) improve their discussion functionality it could well turn into one of *the* places to be as the US continues its year-long election …


  2. Thanks for that, Jon.

    I think there’s a danger for them in getting complacent on Trust. They’ve made the leap to mainstream, and so they’re not so reliant on keeping the early adopters (who are more privacy aware) happy as much as other social networks are. They could afford just to let the geeks leave and fall back on the non-geek majority who don’t really care about trust.

    I think that’d be a mistake though, as if their venture capitalists care whether the company is still in business in 2 years, they’ll need to keep innovating and pushing, and they’ll need the geeks as guinea pigs for that.

  3. Thanks for the link to my MyDD piece! I also appreciate your write-up of the conversation with the Facebook privacy directory. That’s very interesting. I had suspected something of the sort, but it’s good to know details. I’ll probably be writing something about all of this next weekend. Thanks again!

  4. I totally agree on Facebook’s risks on the trust side — and if they’re complacent, given their repeated breaches of trust, it’s a sign that they’ve stopped listening to their users.

    And I strongly disagree that the non-geek majority doesn’t really care about trust. If you look at who’s involved in the large protests (Beacon, or the current kerfuffle over applications), it’s mostly real people. The activists I was talking to who were getting warnings (and saying things like “f—ing FB”) were a diverse group in pretty much every dimension, including profession. On the other hand, geeks are often willing to put up with privacy invasions for cool new functionality — and Facebook goes out of their way to treat geeks well to keep ’em from making trouble.

    The Scoble affair really highlights this. While working for a Facebook competitor, Scoble violated Facebook’s terms of use, their privacy policy and the trust of 5000 of his friends by copying personal information. Facebook’s deactivated his account, and then quickly restored it after he blogged about it and started to get some publicity — in other words, no punishment for Scoble for his violation of trust. The techie response here has been to focus on the underlying technology issues via dataportability.org . On the other hand, when I talk to friends, acquaintances, and relatives who aren’t geeky the response is pretty consistent: why did Scoble think that was okay — and why didn’t Facebook do more to protect their users?


  5. Hmm – half agree with you there Jon on non-geeks. A lot of the people I talk to (and many I guess that you) talk to are of an activist background, as that’s my world, and they’re often even hotter on their privacy and suspicious of corporations than the geeks (as you say, they don’t have the thirst for new toys that they’re willing to trade on privacy they understand). A reason why a lot of them just won’t join in the first place (and a reason I now see less of them as they aren’t in on the fb invites!).

    People are getting more active and more engaged as they get the info tools and skills to let them. At the moment, they are still a minority though. Would the mainstream who aren’t activist personalities be so interested? Can’t see many of my own friends from outside of activist circles either realising or worrying so much.

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