Is Facebook unethical, clueless or unlucky?

Sent this to my email newsletter earlier today… you can join the list at

UPDATED/RELATED (9:30AM December 14th): 1. Excellent post from Dan Gillmor on why he deleted his Facebook page, which supports my thesis below.  2. The EFF’s comments on Facebook’s horrific behavior is great supporting evidence. These two articles appeared DAYS before my rambling piece below. 3. Facebook reached out and asked me to do a call with them. This call will occur this afternoon. Please post updates below (or link to this story so I can link back).


Title: Is Facebook unethical, clueless or unlucky?
Location: CalaCompound, Brentwood, CA
Date/Time: December, 13th 2009 11:20AM
Subscribers: 18,463
Republishing: Looking for someone to donate to charity
for web rights to newsletter:

Facebook proved again this week that they are either the most
unethical or clueless internet company in the world. An amazing
accomplishment since Facebook is also one of the most promising, and
certainly fastest growing, internet companies of all time.  Perhaps
I’m being hyperbolic (who me?), or maybe they are a little of both,
but the fact remains they screw up on important issues almost as if
it’s a “best practice” to do so.

In case you missed it, when you logged into Facebook this week you
were road blocked with a popup explaining that they “we’re making some
changes to give you more control.” Sounds good, and like most users
looking to quickly get into a website or application, I simply clicked
through the message. How important could it be?

When faced with a TOS (Terms of Service) or license the world has been
trained to hit the word “agree,” and click, click, click until they
get to the actual website or software they were trying to get to in
the first place.

Everyone in the industry knows this, and certainly a company built off
of studying social behavior like Facebook would. Since the ToS is
considered a formality, it is up to technology companies–in fact our
industry–to behave. If we don’t behave well then we are going to get
regulated by clueless politicians and policy makers. That would suck
for everyone.

So What Happens When you Clickthrough?
In this case, if you simply click through the windows you’ve exposed
all of your private Facebook information, including comments, friends,
pictures and status updates, to “everyone.” In other words clicking
through changes everything in Facebook terms–unlike every other
license or update screen you’ve experienced in your life.

I’m sorry, what the frack just happened? I turned over my friend list,
photos and status updates to everyone in the world? Why on earth would
anyone do that with their Facebook page?

The entire purpose of Facebook since inception has been to share your
information with a small group of people in your private network.
Everyone knows that and everyone expects that. In fact, Facebook’s
success is largely based on the face that people feel save putting
their private information on Facebook.

When you do get to the second page a series of confusing radio buttons
default–yes defaults–to giving everyone access to your social graph.
Wow. I’ve been using the internet since before images were supported.
I’ve been a member of every social network since Six Degrees and Ryze,
almost a decade before Facebook became available to the public, and I
was confused by their settings page. An average user, certainly, has
no idea what is going on by these changes.

So why is Facebook trying to trick their users?

Simple: search results.

Facebook is trying to dupe hundreds of millions of users they’ve spent
years attracting into exposing their data for Facebook’s personal
gain: pageviews. Yes, Facebook is tricking us into exposing all our
items so that those personal items get indexed in search
engines–including Facebook’s–in order to drive more traffic to

So why is this wrong?
While there is nothing wrong with having a service that is “public by
default,” it is highly unethical to flip your users over to public in
a such a deceitful way

Twitter is, of course, public by default, and we all know that
Facebook is obsessed with Twitter innovations including their short
status updates, their API and most of all, their “open by default”

Facebook has had a couple of innovations in their history, like their
application layer and news feed (which is now gone), but for the past
couple of years they’ve given up on innovation and focused on stealing
ideas from Twitter and out-executing them, while not caring about user
rights. This is challenging for Twitter, which is run by the highly
ethical Evan Williams and Biz Stone. In fact, those two guys are
massively conservative when it comes to their user base.

Facebook continues their non-stop copying of Twitter, and even after
the absurdly stupid “Facebook Beacon” debacle, they continue to try
and sneak unethical behavior past the masses–and the industry.

The result? They’re winning and winning big!

It is so depressing when one of our leading companies bases their
ethics on “will we get caught?” and perhaps more precisely: “if we do
get caught will it cost us anything in relation to the money we’ll
make when we go public?”

The Issue Facebook is creating for all Internet companies
Another problem Facebook is creating with their reckless behavior is
that they are simultaneously making users distrust the internet and
bringing the attention of regulators.

As an industry we should police ourselves and do everything we can to
create trust with users.

It would be great if the “adults” sitting around Zuckerberg’s cube
would explain to the Golden Child that just because he’s on the Forbes
billionaires list and he generates a mob of sycophants around him at
the TED conference, that doesn’t mean he gets a free pass to bring the
heat down on all of us.

Behave yourself dude!

How would you do it better?
If Facebook was more concerned with ethics than world domination, they
would simply post a popup that said something like:

“Dear Facebook Members,

Good news, we’ve now added the option to share your content with
everyone! Be sure to check out this new feature here and be sure to
consider if you want to expose your content to the world before
changing your settings!”

Of course, that would result in 1% of users turning their service to
“everyone” (i.e. public) a month. It would take years to convert a
meaningful amount of users and their personal data into revenue
generating public objects. With Facebook’s IPO–the one that will save
Silicon Valley–around the corner, there is simply nothing we can do.

Facebook’s IPO and revenue growth trumps user’s rights, right?

Growth at all costs!

Long live the Golden Child!

Ticker: FCBK FTW!

Can I still get a friends and family allotment?



Questions (hit reply, or post to your blog):

1. Is Facebook clueless, unethical or just unlucky? Why?
2. Will Facebook’s latest behavior result in more lawsuits and/or
industry regulation?
3. Do you trust Facebook with your information?

all the best,



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107 thoughts on “Is Facebook unethical, clueless or unlucky?

  1. You’ve gotta be kidding. Oh, poor users.
    Why don’t they start reading what they accept?
    I say if you are such an idiot to click through THIS, you totally deserve to have all your private info exposed.

    I don’t support FB on this, all right. But let’s just not be clueless.

  2. Thanks for this excellent post, Jason.
    Good on you for speaking so honestly too.
    My girlfriend is a teacher and had taken a lot of care to keep her profile private.
    Once Facebook made those changes, pupils were able to see all her info and pictures.

    If you make users feel like assets not people, they leave. Simple.

  3. Okay….
    I just think this is the funnies thing, ranting and raving about Facebook.
    Yes, so they “screwed up”. Who cares if they “STOLE” from twitter, what
    social networking site doesn’t try and look like or better then thier competition?

    Secondly, I did my privacy thing when it popped up, nothing was changed at all.
    All my settings we infact the same as when I started up facebook.

    I think everyone is just blowing this way out of proportion.

    But the main thing here is…
    IF your dumb enough to write anything personal or private only, thats your own damn fault.
    I will not write personal stuff about me no matter how safe i think my privacy is on the site.
    I will not do it, and I think if other people were smart enough they wouldnt either, but now
    they have an excuse to be stupid because OHH FB is putting my personal info out..
    Well its your fault your wrote personal stuff in the first place, GET OVER IT!

    THat’s just my opinion though. Everyone has different opinions, I just think everyone
    is overreating.

  4. I spend my days trying to convince real estate people that
    the internet is a safe place to hang their hats. Thanks to
    the FB my job just got harder!

  5. 1. Is Facebook clueless, unethical or just unlucky? Why?:

    yes, they are unethical, and i believe they are unlucky: reason being they just made this move, and it is being brought up. In black and white, they have made a move that they cannot take back. If some wants to complain, file, or flat out leave facebook, they can. I personally left Facebookdue to the fact that I did not approve of the new terms alont with their CONSTANT “updates”. One day, my layout looks simple and easy, the next, NOT SO EASY. I remember when facebook started out only being a dating/social group for adults and college students. The day I signed on with Facebook, was the day I was accepted into my college. What happened, they created a section/network for high schoolers within a month. I was livid. But, i’ve been facebook free for some 5 months now, and i love it!!! I now have more time for friends and family and actually see who my friends really are, because i hang out with them in person, not over the internet and not over facebook.

    2. Will Facebook’s latest behavior result in more lawsuits and/or
    industry regulation?

    I sure as hope it will, and if it doesn’t I pray there is someone braver than me to step up to facebook in a courtroom and wag their finger at them. Letting facebook know, they did wrong, they did the people wrong, and they will pay with their very wallets, and maybe even some time.

    3. Do you trust Facebook with your information?

    Not anymore, they lost their chances with me months ago when they couldn’t make up their minds on how they wanted facebook to run/look/and feel. Goodbye Facebook. See you in hell.

  6. You people saying others are dumb…are just dumb. You say your settings were the same as before, private.. really?? Go check photo settings, see if THEY are the same, most likely you will find they are set to “everyone”… who is dumb now?

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