Facebook’s new democracy could challenge other web giants

Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Facebook has taken the unusual step of allowing 30% of its members to decide privacy policies.  CBS News and CNET’s Larry Magid and I talked the change over in this interview late last night.

    The jujitsu by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman is no doubt meant to counter a recent populist revolt against a change in Facebook’s fine print that seemed to suggest Facebook owned user profile data even after a user deleted their account. The backlash killed the policy, and Facebook obviously realized it had tapped a powerful populist force.

    The bottom line is that with 175 million members it will take 30%, or 53 million,  to change a privacy policy on the site. It’s hard to get 53 million people to vote on anything, let alone vote the same way. So Facebook’s new Populism 2.0 approach may be more appearance than substance, as Magid and I discuss. One thing’s for sure, though, Facebook won’t be able to control the populism it unleashes, and it will have to continue to be receptive to members. 

    The big question is whether companies like Google will be forced to embrace this new populism. Would Google agree to let a certain percentage of its members dictate privacy policies at the company? If so, Google would no doubt have to put an "anonymize me" button on its search engine and other products, as we have called for. Is Google 2.0 enough to take the Facebook challenge? How about My Space, or MSN, or Twitter. Will they give users a vote over their privacy controls? It’s a powerful proposition… stay tuned.

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