Will Facebook Become This Year’s Political Football? (And What Would That Mean for Its Product Roadmap?)

[Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Inside Facebook Gold, our new data and analysis membership service tracking Facebook’s business and growth. Inside Facebook Gold presents weekly in-depth analysis articles exploring the most critical developments impacting the future of the Facebook ecosystem. Click here to learn more.]

While Facebook has been changing its product – and dealing with partially negative reactions from users and privacy watchdogs – for years, the latest round of media attention paid to Facebook’s recently announced products was different than it’s been in years past. In previous (and arguably much bigger) product announcements, like the launch of the News Feed in 2006, and the initial move to more public user profiles in early 2009, the changes were protested by users forming Facebook Groups into the millions of members (yes, ironically, people using the product to protest the product).

Now, this year’s changes were met with Chuck Schumer holding a press conference to call Facebook “The Wild West of the Internet” and an open letter from Schumer and three other US Senators to Mark Zuckerberg requesting that Facebook make Instant Personalization – a just-announced feature currently live on three partner sites – opt-in.

As someone who has been following the company closely over the years, the fact that Facebook product announcements are prompting immediate multi-Senator responses is definitely a sign of how the stakes have changed for Facebook since the days of “1 Million Users Against the News Feed.” Now, Facebook not only has to improve the way it communicates with users – it has to fight for its life inside the Beltway, or it could become a poster-child for politicians looking to capitalize on Facebook’s problems while the FUD iron is still hot.

Fundamentally, there are 3 different (almost religious) views on the way Facebook makes product changes:

  1. It is greedy and looking to capitalize on user data through advertising, to what will eventually become its own demise.
  2. On the contrary, the company is rapidly innovating given changing privacy and cultural norms on the Internet.
  3. A middle ground, that Facebook is gradually changing the way privacy works in its product as a result of what users demonstrate they want.

>> Read more of this article at Inside Facebook Gold