Did Google Just Kill The Facebook Privacy Fiasco?

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By Nick O'Neill

Google Evil IconMark Zuckerberg spent his 26th birthday doing something that may be looked back at as a significant milestone for the company: waiting out a Facebook privacy storm. In previous years, Mark Zuckerberg could have only wished for the privacy storms to pass over, as concessions were made as a result of each previous storm that passed through. This time though, an unlikely player may have just served as the victim in what has become a perfect media-fueled privacy storm: Google.

Google Takes The Fall

Just as the press was at the peak of its attack on Facebook for the company’s latest changes, Google has volunteered itself for becoming the face of technological privacy blunders. At the end of the week, the company admitted to collecting “payload data” from public WiFi networks through the company’s Street View cars. The company has now understandably come under attack for the move. It also couldn’t have been better timing for Mark Zuckerberg, who just the day before, had a quote from a soon-to-be-released book about Facebook published on the web:

Let me paint the two scenarios for you. They correspond to two companies in the Valley. It’s not completely this extreme, but they are on different sides of the spectrum. On the one hand you have Google, which primarily gets information by tracking stuff that’s going on. They call it crawling. They crawl the web and get information and bring it into their systems. They want to build maps, so they send around vans which literally go and take pictures of your home for their Street View system. And the way they collect and build profiles on people to do advertising is by tracking where you go on the Web, through cookies with DoubleClick and AdSense. That’s how they build a profile about what you’re interested in. Google is a great company, but you can see that taken to a logical extreme that’s a little scary.

Ironically, it was a direct attack on the exact program (Google Street View) that has become a source of privacy violations. It could not have been better timing. Mark Zuckerberg has essentially positioned Facebook as a better alternative to Google as the company doesn’t go about tracking people, instead they collect voluntarily shared data:

If you allow people to share what they want and give them good tools to control what they’re sharing, you can get even more information shared. […] This is one of the most important problems for the next ten to twenty years. Given that the world is moving toward more sharing of information, making sure that it happens in a bottom-up way, with people inputting the information themselves and having control over how their information interacts with the system, as opposed to a centralized way, through it being tracked in some surveillance system.

The Lesser Of Two Evils

When contrasted with Google’s system, it’s appears to be a much better alternative. Despite some of the more complicated issues that Facebook is wrangling with (in trying to accelerate people’s willingness to share more information publicly), Facebook could actually come out as the victor, as it is perfectly contrasted to more aggressive (and questionable) tactics used by Google.

Honestly, it’s a dangerous game. Consumers should not be forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. However the media is only focused on what drives eyeballs and if the majority of consumers choose to view Facebook’s new privacy strategies as “last week’s news” (with the help of the media), the latest Facebook privacy storm may indeed come to pass.

In fact, some people are already convinced that this storm is going to pass over. They have ceded defeat on behalf of Facebook users and are ready to move on to the next story (Google is looking like a pretty good target). While I hope the press chooses to continue to force what is a much needed conversation surrounding the protection of users, Google may have just given Facebook their first opportunity ever to weather a privacy storm.

The evil Google icon was found via Merodeando.