Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

Quitting Facebook Is Not Just About Privacy

By Dennis D. McDonald

While on Google+ I ran across a link to what I thought was another one of those “Why I Left Facebook” posts, this time one by author Douglas Rushkoff called Why I’m Quitting Facebook on CNN’s website.  

I quit Facebook a while back — too many irrelevant ads, too many other online engagement opportunities. Plus, I don’t really need the service to keep up with friends and family. Facebook’s lack of privacy was not the real reason. Anyone who thinks information posted on Facebook is “private” should have been disabused of that misperception long ago.

Rushkoff’s reasons go beyond privacy exploits and appear to me at least to be much more serious and profound. His take on Facebook’s business model is that it actively enables and perhaps even encourages advertisers to misrepresent both the relationships and the preferences of members by making it possible to associate individuals with products or services they may know nothing about or may not really “like.”

Why this happens is pretty simple: clicking the “like” button can mean just about anything you want it to mean. On the one hand it can mean “I saw this.” On the other hand it can mean, “I like this.” Yet again it may just mean, “In order for me to participate in this activity or opportunity I have to click the “like” button whether I know anything about this or not.”

I know that some folks will interpret this as just another “signal” that companies can use to “personalize” the experience of online web participants. That might be true. You hear commentators like Jeff Jarvis make this point all the time.

But what Rushkoff is saying — and one of his own stated goals for managing his own online presence and reputation is selling his books — is that you can’t trust what Facebook “tells” you about people because you are not in control of how data about your relationships and preferences are being manipulated.

Think about that for a second. Think about how important the concept “trust” is in any relationship. That’s pretty damning, in my opinion. It suggests to me that a network built on relationships you can’t trust is like a house of cards. Pull one out and the whole lot can fall down.

I’m NOT saying that many folks don’t get a great deal of value from using Facebook. I know they do. But if a lot of people, even people willing to live with Facebook’s lack of privacy, begin thinking that Facebook is an inherently untrustworthy platform, then its popularity — and stock price — are sure to drop.

If I were a company, a government agency, or a nonprofit considering making a significant investment in the use of Facebook for engaging with my target market or user group, I would think long and hard about the implications of this.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is a Washington DC area consultant specializing in digital strategy, project management, and technology adoption. His clients have included the US Department of Veterans Affairs, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Jive Software, the National Library of Medicine, the National Academy of Engineering, Social Media Today and Oracle, and the World Bank Group. His experience includes government contract research, software and database product development, system integration and consolidation, and IT strategy consulting. Contact Dennis via email at ddmcd@yahoo.com or by phone at  703-402-7382.  

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