Social Networks and Trust

By Dale Wolf

I approach social networks with a simple rule: never write anything that would embarrass my mother, wife or children. Actually that’s a pretty good rule for life in general, as well as putting comments into online media. The stuff you find on any of my blogs, or the comments I make on other blogs, or my profile information on LinkedIn or FaceBook play by my simple rule.

But a lot of peer-to-peer social network users write stuff that surely later in life they will regret. When they have a change of mind and want to delete this kind of material, they should be able to do so.

The Washington Post and Paul Greenberg give us all a good reason to live by my simple rule: 

On Friday, an op. ed. appeared in the Washington Post by staffer Catherine Rampell called "What Facebook Knows That You Don’t." The piece highlights a series of recent articles that say: even if you "deactivate" your account, Facebook holds on to your profile data. This disclosure has gotten privacy groups and consumers up in arms. All the commotion about how Facebook hoards outgoing users’ data got me wondering whether we’re missing the more important privacy question: What happens to all the data we active members choose to delete, for privacy reasons or otherwise? Facebook’s privacy policy is disturbingly cryptic on this issue. It says the company "usually keep[s] a backup copy of the prior version [of updated profile information] for a reasonable period of time to enable reversion to the prior version of that information." Facebook declines to enumerate how many days (or centuries) constitute a "reasonable period of time." Facebook users do not have access to this information, so it’s unclear who exactly would be doing the proposed "reversion."

Paul Greenberg is more pointed in his posting:

Basically, if you interpret what they are doing, its insidious. It basically is removing all control you have over your profile – or, in other words, what you care to record of your life online. So that if YOU decide that YOU don’t want to be a member of Facebook – fine, as far as Facebook is concerned. THEY still will own YOUR profile. If YOU decide that YOU made a mistake and revealed something YOU shouldn’t have or needed to get past something that YOU had done and recorded, that’s fine as far as Facebook is concerned. THEY will still own YOUR history. One of the key psychological benefits of a social network is not just the peer-to-peer communications that it fosters. It is CONTROL of the life that is being exposed by the owner of that life. That is translated to a profile when it comes to a social network and the actions on that profile. What makes Facebook particularly nasty here is that it says to the "friend" – "your ownership is an illusion. Once you commit – you commit. And then, heh, heh, heh, the data is MINE, MINE I tell you. MINE!! I AM FACEBOOK – LORD OF THIS UNIVERSE – MASTER OF THIS SOCIAL DOMAIN." OR to put it in little kids terms: What’s mine is mine. And what’s yours is mine.

Now, here’s where I gotta think Facebook has it all wrong. Every customer experience is designed to endear customers to us. We give a perfect customer experience, even when it costs us to do so. We do this because it builds trust and people buy from companies they trust. As Paul Greenberg so aptly stated "I’ll talk to my trusted peers on Facebook, as well as LinkedIn and Plaxo. But I have to say – Facebook, I don’t trust YOU."

If the conclusion is that you cannot trust Facebook, they you should either be very careful at what you share with them (follow my simple rule) or you should admit the customer experience they give you is not a good one and you should vote with your feet.

One other thing you can do … which is what I am doing in this blog and what The Washington Post and Paul Greenberg have done is to spread the word and put intolerable pressure on Facebook. Your profile should be yours; not theirs. Word of mouth is powerful. Turn on the heat!

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