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Facebook Needs To Follow And Not Lead On Privacy Policies

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I took last week off, and it was a big week for Facebook watchers. Facebook decided to change its terms of service, putting its millions of users on notice that Facebook owns their data and isn’t planning any opt-out mechanism. Now, to many observers, including Chris Brogan and me, it’s not news that free Web services own the data posted to them, but this Facebook announcement caused a firestorm, and Facebook backed off before the week was out. Watching this play out caused me to realize why Facebook is dumber than Google.

So, Mark Zuckerberg, you probably aren’t listening to me, but I have some advice: Stop being so damn innovative on privacy.

If you are able to learn anything from Google, you should learn from Google’s strategy on privacy. They actually go out of their way not to blaze trails. Google’s strategy seems to be to watch and see what is accepted and what creates firestorms (they’ve been watching you at Facebook carefully). Google wants to be a follower on privacy and learn from what others do.

Google needs to act this way, because they are so large. They are too big to experiment with privacy, which is the third rail of Internet marketing. Mark, you’re too big to do it, either.

I know that you still think of yourselves as an upstart. You wish you has a tenth of the resources and profits of Google. You think you’re still an underdog. But the public doesn’t see it that way. The public thinks you are a big fish–a huge player.

So, stop experimenting with privacy and start letting others do the testing. You can then follow along once the public tells you what they’ll accept and what they won’t. Google rarely gets pilloried for privacy missteps, even though they have control of loads of information. Figure out how to slowly and quietly do what’s acceptable rather than constantly testing the boundaries.

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