Facebook & its double standard on sharing

30 Comments

Mark Zuckerberg announced the Skype-Facebook collaboration yesterday and showed off a great product built by the Skype team. As he talked about the world, he amplified his long held belief that people love to share and sharing on Facebook will only keep growing. He’s held that belief for a long time and talked about it first in 2008. Yesterday, he equated what is being dubbed as Zuckerberg’s Law to Moore’s Law. It makes perfect marketing sense that he would do that.

For me, data is the plastic of the 21st century, something I have said again and again. My belief in the disruptive power of data prompted me to start writing about it long before it became fashionable and we organized a gathering around it as well. I am even working on a book around it. Thus, I was excited to hear Zuckerberg talk at length about data and its capabilities.

Photo courtesy of Inside Facebook

So I set off to write about Facebook and its data-centric approach to the web. To supplement my writing, I asked the Facebook public relations team if they would be kind enough to share a slide with me from Mark’s presentation — the slide you currently see in the post . . . thanks to my friends at Inside Facebook. (I wanted a higher resolution photo than the one pictured versus using a screen grab from the Facebook video livestream).

But the Facebook PR team decided that they didn’t want to share that slide. That answer did catch me by surprise. I mean, I wasn’t asking for a trade secret or an exclusive piece of information. I was asking for a piece of a document that had already been shared publicly. First I was annoyed; Irritated even. But I decided to let it go.

And then I thought about it some more. The answer from Facebook’s press team is reflective of what is Facebook’s corporate DNA of hoarding information. The company’s approach to data is that of a one way street: use any of its products — Facebook Connect, Facebook Comments, Facebook Likes — and you keep sending data into the giant Facebook brain.

When you want to take something out of the Facebook borg — well, that isn’t going to happen. And when you do get access to the data, it is in a limited fashion for a select few companies.

I have been around long enough to know that companies have a way of putting on a happy face. Just as I don’t buy into the “do no evil” nonsense from Google (s GOOG), I have been skeptical of Facebook and its friendliness.

On paper, it is a mere slide from a PowerPoint, but in reality it is the true reflection of a double standard on sharing by Facebook. I think next time Mark or his brilliant CTO Bret Taylor talk about sharing, they should also remember the age old saying — actions speak louder than words.

30 Comments

Damir Perge

I know you’re not going to believe this, but this is why I am not on Facebook as an individual. I do have my company set up on Facebook but so what? I like LinkedIn and Twitter — so far. Personally, I think it’s getting out of control when it comes to who owns the personal information. I don’t particularly want Mark to be my Silicon Pimp of information.

You nailed it in this column. Actions speak louder than words. Facebook does have a double standard. Having worked for Net Market Makers and Jupiter Media in the past, I am actually shocked that Facebook PR would not share with you with the damn slide. I don’t get it. Ridiculous.

Andrew

Now that you’re on the bad side of Facebook, you’ll probably get treated *better*.

It’s odd how relationships work.

petraquilitz

Hidden agenda? Two-way sharing? Reality check: Just because a company comes up with a great business model that has all the known positive side effect we get to enjoy for free, doesn’t turn turn that company into a non profit organization with non-commerce oriented goals. They’re just a company, but boy to they do business responsibly, compared to most others. Basic truth is that the data really simply is theirs and they get to decide what to do with it. But boy do they use it responsibly, compared to most others.

Speaking of double standards…..The moment they are forced to share their data with anyone, everyone else gets forced to share their house with people that don’t have an equally nice home, because other citizens of your country think you should be more generous with the space you own and not just let people of your choice enter and use it. Everyone should have a right to your privately owned properties once it reaches a certain size (as defined by some people), right? Data-envy anyone?

BTW, data is not the plastic of the 21st century. You’re confusing the goods with the payment method.

Me, I’m just as awe how they manage to build a million dollar business without child labor, support of war-pro leaders, sex-sells attitude, cancer-inducing substances, annoying ads on TV, outrageous monthly subscription costs to use it, cheap sales tricks like binding contracts, massive air and water pollution, gene manipulation, bribing of politicians, health tests on unsuspecting citizens in South America, or massive use of the color pink.

If you can manage that, and then you also manage to give all data to everyone for free without that automatically removing the advertising and sponsoring revenue stream that enabled you to do the thing in the first place – congratulations. Until then, better stick to article writing.

petraquilitz

Hidden agenda? Two-way sharing? Reality check: Just because a company comes up with a great business model that has all the known positive side effect we get to enjoy for free, doesn’t turn turn that company into a non profit organization with non-commerce oriented goals. They’re just a company, but boy to they do business responsibly, compared to most others. Basic truth is that the data really simply is theirs and they get to decide what to do with it. But boy do they use it responsibly, compared to most others.

Speaking of double standards…..The moment they are forced to share their data with anyone, everyone else gets forced to share their house with people that don’t have an equally nice home, because other citizens of your country think you should be more generous with the space you own and not just let people of your choice enter and use it. Everyone should have a right to your privately owned properties once it reacehes a certain size (as defined by some people), right? Data-envy anyone?

BTW, data is not the plastic of the 21st century. You’re confusing the goods with the payment method.

Me, I’m just as awe how they manage to build a million dollar business without child labor, support of war-pro leaders, sex-sells attitude, cancer-inducing substances, annoying ads on TV, outrageous monthly subscription costs to use it, cheap sales tricks like binding contracts, massive air and water pollution, gene manipulation, bribing of politicians, health tests on unsuspecting citizens in South America, or massive use of the color pink.

If you can manage that, and then you also manage to give all data to everyone for free without that automatically removing the advertising and sponsoring revenue stream that enabled you to do the thing in the first place – congratulations. Until then, better stick to article writing.

David

As Om found getting data about Facebook from Facebook is basically impossible, but getting user data out of Facebook is really simple: write an app.

Every Facebook app I’ve ever seen wants complete unfettered access to everything in my profile. As a result I will never approve another Facebook app.

Mark

To this day I’m amazed at all of the social media “lemmings” that just keep pumping their data and information into the Facebook black hole. FB’s one-way business model is not something that is good for most businesses though it’s great for FB. Every level of their business is about them controlling your information for their business gain.

I cringe when I talk to many small businesses and find out that they have put all of their marketing efforts into the Facebook “basket.” A dangerous and very short-sighted strategy for any business.

jdhastings

Jean-Francoise Lyotard predicted the data driven information economy in 1979 in The Postmodern Condition. One of the primary attributes he described was how computerization would lead to the hoarding of information (the data you’re speaking of being a subset). He specifically said those who control information will control economies and even states. In which case it makes sense that a corporation would gather as much data as possible while disseminating it only under rigid circumstances.

A S

In addition to the asymmetric information sharing, there is a second strand to the Facebook DNA that we should never forget: it was conceived and built in order to take advantage of people’s personal information. That core strand has only continued to grow stronger and more prevalent as Facebook has grown stronger and become more prevalent. This is another thing about FB that will never change.

Chris

Facebook allows some data out of the gate – every week I download data on our company Facebook pages. BUT … it’s on Facebook’s terms and I only see the level they want me to see.
Perhaps big business (i.e. those that will keep Facebook going) should band together with all that data and do their analysis on all their social media outlets, run their own graphs and play Facebook at its own game.

Eric

I don’t use Facebook or Google+ and both strike me as similar in that their hidden agenda is rarely overtly mentioned in their own literature about themselves, we all know that these are both advertising companies which “learn” about you by your clicks and choices and then mash that up into data which helps them sell highly effective targeted advertising for large profits. Their privacy policies are similar too in that whether or not you can export your data (a minor point IMO), both companies keep historical archives of your every move which they keep regardless of whether you export anything or not and use to paint a like/dislike portrait of you to sell to advertisers.

Many peeps these days don’t seem to care about their privacy as long as they’re getting something for free. Privacy is something that many of our ancestors fought hard to get, today, people who benefited from that fight seem not to care. So be it. I shed a quiet tear along with 14 other people. The rest can’t seem to get enough of what i often think of as the rabbits of Watership Down who had a beautiful warren and all the food they could eat and paid “a price that was never discussed”.

i’ve been pondering how Google+ has mimicked Facebook in another way that hasn’t been commented on. By adding the new black toolbar to Google and rolling all the Google services into, shall we say, New Google, they have effectively created a walled garden of the “rest of the web”. So you can now be in Facebook-tania, Apple-gardinia or in the Kingdom of Google. A smaller nation state is Microsoftia but never put it past the Microsoftians to grow bigger. So no matter which territory you’re in the same thing is going on, you are being watched, recorded and monitised for someone elses’ benefit without much attention to the consequences to your own freedom.

So far this Orwellian structure has been relatively benign (if a bit hypocritical but that’s part of New Speak as we know) but I fear its only a matter of time until something blows up in someone’s face.

i’m glad I’m an old dude. The future doesn’t look open, open always always loses. The future looks closed and kind of well, 1984ish. You’ll recall that the tools that made 1984 work were also popular with the population.

Niall Harbison

It’s amazing how 2 months ago Facebook had this PR dream machine in place where the press couldn’t get enough of them. It only takes about 3 or 4 posts (One on Inside networks about numbers dropping, Jason Kincaid post about their PR and now this one) to get the ripple effect going and I can see people turning on them already. They’ve had it pretty easy for too long and those PRs are going to have to start earning their money now.

Ryan

Great points, I’m becoming more and more sick of facebook and it’s closed system. For a company that promotes sharing it amazes me how closed they are

Bryan007

Good article. Google + allows for easy data export. Given that 25% of Google employees’ annual bonus rides on Google +’s success and with the recent memory of facebook’s smear campaign, the motivation is high for them to put out a good product. Facebook’s days could be numbered.

Nitin Borwankar

Om, I think we all need to remind Facebook that “sharing” is a two-way street.
That’s what we teach our kids – sharing does not men you get to play with everyone else’s toys but you keep your own and not share them. Seems like the Facebook kids did not learn this lesson in kindergarten.

Most early Web 2.0 companies were actually also like this for a long time. You could put your bookmarks on delicious but you could not get a dump from delicious of everyone’s bookmarks but you could browse them on the site. Flickr still doesn’t allow a bulk download of your photos. Even with a pro account – you do them one by one.
No one called these early sites on their bad behavior and this created a culture where the digital feudal lords own the output of the digital serfs. And that is OK.
Mark Zuckerberg has taken this to the full extreme as is natural in capitalism as a fully developed economic form of feudalism.

Data ownership is like land ownership – data is not some just plastic – data is the intellectual raw land of the 21st century.

And we are all handing it over to kids who in my opinion have no sense of history and have no broad understanding of human motivation or even what the concerns of people very different from them are.

As I’ve said to you Om, in person, the tech media are embedded, with these guys. If you write bad things you won’t be invited to the next early first-look shindig.

In my mind over the years (and I’ve also brought this up with Jay Rosen) the adversarial nature of investigative journalism seems to be the only way to get at the truth.

I just wish we had an adversarial tech media.

Narendra

My understanding is that absolute numbers of sharing are rising but the number of content creators as a % of total users is pretty flat. Across UGC that is normally in the 5-10% range.

So really, the law being exposed is one that has been around since 1999 which is based around content creation. The idea that Facebook is creating or enticing people to join that producer category in droves has not been show.

Om Malik

Narendra

I agree. It is true on almost all web sites. What I am amazed is that the growth of data and actual sharing isn’t higher. I thought the more we shared, the more others reciprocated.

On the law concept, I do agree with you entirely.

Ric

The thing that amazes me about the FB data phenom is that so many millions of people that realize FB is a hinderance to their personal data management and that Mark is by total nature a douche, lament the networks status quo like they have no choice in the matter.

No on twists anyones arm to participate in the platform PERIOD.

Odeena

“No on twists anyones arm to participate in the platform PERIOD.”

…Except that a lot of people feel pressured to conform to the standard because everyone around them does the same. I’m the only one in my group of peers who doesn’t have a Facebook account anymore and I get a lot of crap for it because apparently it takes a great effort to e-mail or IM someone rather than write on their ‘wall’, go figure. /sarcasm

ZATZAi

Status Quo from Zuckerburg, he’s always been a user more than a giver and so is his company…

Adario Strange

I definitely agree with this post. And I think, albeit to a lesser degree, the same applies to Google. I do hope that an open source group tackles this “data as currency” movement. One’s personal info (who my friends are, where I went to school, etc.) used to be valued at a high premium, but now we’re supposed to hand all this over in exchange for a free Gmail (or Google+) account or a free FB login? I think we the users are selling ourselves short.

Shakir Razak

Hi,

Om, it’s so great for such a senior journalist to point this out, if only yourself and Arrington had done so earlier rather than the mythical hype.

It became clear to me more than a decade ago that search would be more relevant if actual human usage could be tracked, and just as google operated the free 411 service to suck in free data/voice-sourcing and testing, this is what facebook is.

Every interaction with it, even when not a registered user (eg. commenting on blogs even using other ID’s) Is being silo’d for future use, which is why, for exemple, I have stopped commenting/reading techcrunch, and returned far more to Gigaom – you have to question the business acumen and ethics of any brand that returns to pre-Internet days and hands anything (control, data, brand, content) over to such a company.

The lazy mediarati have created their own 21st Century Ma Bell, which will only get worse unless other commentators, regulators/politicians and users wake up.

The same goes for the ubiquitous Verb-ing hype of Skype and Twitter ( as their own founders have declared of their ambitions)!

Yours kindly,

Shakir Razak

Colin Walker

As you say, it may only be a small thing but there is a history of small things which app up to demostrate the culture that pervades everything FB does.

Ricky Cadden

You know, I didn’t think about it yesterday while I watched the announcement, but you’re right. Look at how many companies have tried to get your friend data out of Facebook, even for such a small feature as to match up user lists on other services. Facebook has repeatedly and actively blocked these services. It’s the black hole of data, as you point out.

I kinda wish someone had asked this during the Q&A yesterday. If consumers share 2x as much every 12 months, does that mean Facebook hoards 2x as much every 12 months, too?

I’m a pretty avid Facebook user, admittedly. However, now that I have a child, I’m *very* aware of what information I input to Facebook. It’s disturbing, really.

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