Facebook’s Privacy PR Problem: Three Things The Company Could Have Done Better, And Three Things To Do Now


Facebook has been facing heat lately over a number of privacy issues, from integrating user information with third party websites, to inadvertently exposing chat logs, to drawing ire from consumer groups.

The negative feedback included a recent A1 New York Times story, titled, “Facebook Glitch Brings New Privacy Worries.”

Ethan Beard, director of Facebook’s developer network, dismissed the much of the noise as media chatter.

“There’s been a lot of interest from the media, from organizations and officials. But to be honest, the user response has been overwhelmingly positive,” he told Computerworld, without citing any specific feedback or data from Facebook’s more than 400 million users. Also, Ethan, here’s one big lesson in PR: don’t blame the media.

Certainly, Beard believes in some sort assemblance of privacy. When one visits his Facebook profile, the following message is displayed: “Ethan only shares some of his profile information with everyone. If you know Ethan, send him a message or add him as a friend.”

An interesting tidbit to note in relation to all of this is that Facebook Director of Communications Brandee Barker happened to go on maternity leave this week.

Taking all of this into account, we asked a a few technology PR pros for their opinions on the matter. After the jump are some thoughts from Chaim Haas, Senior Vice President, Technology & Emerging Media at Kaplow Communications. Specifically, Haas lays out three things Facebook could have done better, and three things they should do moving forward, from a PR perspective.

What Facebook Could Have Done Better

1) When Facebook made the recent changes, they had a message about the changes at the top of the news feed the first time a consumer logged in. This went away almost immediately, whether or not the user read it or didn’t agree to it. They need to give users more than 24 hours to digest changes, especially those related to online privacy, an issue which most consumers still don’t fully understand.

2) Use video to clearly illustrate the changes and how they will impact the average user.

3) Don’t use a developer conference to introduce new, radical changes to the site and have them go live immediately. While it’s important to engage developers, it’s even more important to communicate the changes and their effects on consumers to the users before the new features go live.

What Facebook Should Do Now

1) Be even more transparent when dealing with security and privacy issues. All of Facebook’s communications around the security issue related to the shutdown of chat called it a “bug.” Tell it like it is to users. If it’s a security issue, call it that and tell us what you’re doing to fix it. Then update us once the fix has been completed.

2) It might actually get them to hire a new Chief Privacy Officer or Chief Information Security Officer, as their old one left and is now running for State Attorney General and is actively criticizing Facebook’s new “instant personalization” features.

3) Now that the privacy groups are engaged in this matter, they’re not going to just go away quietly. Use this as an opportunity to open up a dialogue with them. Sit down and talk to them and be willing to take their advice and criticism.

What is your take? Do you agree with Haas’ thoughts? Have some of your own? Post them in the comments.

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