Facebook Goes Public – Time to Pop the Privacy Champagne?

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First, please excuse me for letting my inner Archie Bunker vent a little. If you are anything like me, then you could care less about updating your Facebook page on an hourly basis. Sure, I have a page, but maintaining it is both a bore and a chore (pardon my weak rhyming scheme). What are even worse are the privacy implications that Facebook poses, but anyone who signs up for an account – myself included – should already be well aware of this aspect before agreeing to the site’s terms.

Keeping track of all the Facebook privacy changes is even more daunting than trying to read a Facebook news feed dominated by your three high school friends who feel it necessary to update their status every 15 minutes. I made a choice early on in my use of the site that I would not continuously fiddle with these privacy settings, because they seem to constantly change, or they were quite confusing even to the most astute observers. Plus, who has the time for bull like that? My tactic is simple: don’t post anything on Facebook that I would not want my mother to read. I find this serves me well from both a personal and professional perspective.

Now, what does Facebook’s public offering have to do with all of this? Sure, the company has been subject to the regulators here in the US and abroad, but I hope that with shareholders now having a say, Mr. Zuckerberg and company will now take privacy a bit more seriously when they have a different master to answer too. Perhaps it is a fantasy, and maybe I’m even a bit too critical, but all that I have read or heard coming from the mouth of the Facebook CEO is that we no longer live in a world were privacy matters. It’s pure and utter nonsense.

Privacy as a default setting anyone? Sharing only if I opt in sound like a good idea? Maybe some new input on how Facebook operates will do us all a bit of good, especially those of us who wholeheartedly disagree with Zuckerberg and still value our personal privacy in this digital age.

This morning I read a post from one of our bloggers on the significance of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing initiative, which began 10 years ago. Then, Microsoft’s operating system was the target of many hacker exploits because security was not something baked into its products. Fast forward a decade and this situation has changed drastically. Facebook presently finds itself in a similar situation that Microsoft faced 10 years ago. With nearly a billion users, the fact that security (and privacy) were afterthoughts has Facebook scrambling to deal with the security issues it faces on a daily basis – many of which end up being fodder for our news feed.

Yet, with Facebook going public, I don’t think it will take too long before the company embarks on a similar effort ingrain security into its culture. Perhaps Zuckerberg will modernize the method and years from now we will reflect on his famous “wall post” to employees regarding the site’s new approach to security and privacy. With a vast public of shareholders to answer to, and so much money on the line, the security of Facebook’s services and how the site uses and displays customer data will become increasingly vital to the company’s future successes. Security will be a ‘must have’ for the Facebook business model, and not just an afterthought.

The implications of this Facebook IPO have been commented on widely over the past few days. Most of the coverage revolves around how this will change the site, or will it perhaps start charging people to use the service. I say go ahead and start charging for Facebook, and see how quickly I cancel my account. It’s nice to locate old friends and colleagues with relative ease, but I’m just not going to pay for something that I once received for free (and my use of my New York Times mobile apps can vouch for my seriousness when I say this). Add to this the value in possibly paying for a service that is quickly becoming the cybercriminals playground, and it’s hard to see how Facebook – or social networking – can ever move to a pay model if there is not the accompanying security apparatus in place. After all, we pay handsomely in some cases to prevent online fraud and theft, so I don’t think users will be handing over their payment details for a service that can possibly take from them much more than the money in their checking accounts.

So, here’s to the new Facebook shareholders, and hopefully the demise of Mr Zuckerberg as the arbiter of commonly accepted personal freedoms. As he swims in his piles of cash, no doubt Mark doesn’t care about what I have to say. This matters little to me however, because I know there are many of you out there that are just as annoyed as I am by the necessary evil that is “The Social Network”.

Finally, I raise a glass to those Facebookers who have absolutely nothing to share, and to those who could care less about what you are doing right now. Three cheers for privacy...

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