I applaud Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement in today’s Washington Post that Facebook will revise its privacy policies. Of course, questions remain: just how private will Facebook permit users to be, and can consumers trust Facebook in light of its recent privacy missteps? This post has a simple message: Facebook should act now to make itself — and online connection and communication — stronger for years to come. Three powerful steps could turn skeptics into fans.
Facebook has the opportunity to take this embarrassing stumble on privacy and turn it to the company’s advantage. Just as Johnson & Johnson back in 1982 managed to turn a scare relating to Tylenol into a textbook case of crisis management, Facebook should use this moment to redefine itself in the marketplace as a friend of privacy-protected communications.
Here’s hoping that Facebook does the right thing. It has the power to influence the shape of online privacy for years to come. It should seize this moment.
Trust is hard to earn and easy to squander. Facebook’s trend in recent years gives users little reason to trust the company. Thus, it will take more than an editorial in the Post to change that perceived trajectory. Facebook should take three steps now to rebuild that trust:
1. Announce new guidelines that either permit users to default to a “no-share,” absolute privacy baseline, or that provides for a truly informed “opt-out” regime. If the latter, use a professional organization, like Kinsella Media LLC (with whom I’ve worked in litigation) to create “plain-language notification” professionally designed to fully inform consumers of what they gain and what they give up by sharing some or all of their data online.
2. Make substantial monetary contributions to organizations, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation or Creative Commons, that police online privacy or work toward informed dissemination of information online. These contributions should be more than mere fig leaves. Make a difference with organizations that make a difference.
3. Work with other major online players (e.g., Google) to establish privacy “best practices” for the online world. Although the internet is much more mature than it was even five years ago, it is still in its infancy. Establishing best practices now may have enormous impact on the shape of communication, connection, and privacy for literally centuries to come.
Companies, like people, may be defined by how they react to adversity. So Facebook, seize the moment.