Well…

I knew THAT headline would grab your attention.  ;-)

This is about Google and Facebook, not porn. Sorry.  ;-)

Actually, it’s about the dynamics of small companies that grow out of ideals, ideals that get lost somewhere along the course of growth and the quest for ever-greater profits. Google and Facebook, the two most successful online companies, merely serve as examples.

First, Google.

I remember when Google announced that they were adding a “Go To Google” link to every AdSense Ad.

Just like that. On every ad, every person earning income through AdSense was GIVING a very visible link back to Google’s search engine.

GIVING. As in… no payment for the link back to them.

Google was cutting down each visitor’s exploration of your site. An example…

1) Visitor finds you at Google.

2) Visitor reads page and sees “Go To Google” link on your AdSense ads (I forget the exact wording of the link).

3) Visitor returns to Google.

4) You earn nothing.

Bad. It amounts to hijacking of your visitor.

“Don’t Be Evil” is Google’s informal corporate motto (or slogan)…
http://investor.google.com/corporate/code-of-conduct.html

So what happened?

As you may know, I’m not a big fan of blogging as a platform for e-business for most individuals.

What do I LOVE about blogging?

The power and immediacy of its nature. Blogging is best used, and is most successfully used, by those who want to build news-based or commentary-based businesses. Word spreads rapidly from blogger to blogger. And on that day…

News AND commentary came together brilliantly, naturally, spontaneously. Within hours, the outrage among bloggers about Google’s plan was unanimous, loud, and fast. Ultimately, it was…

Overwhelming. Google backed down and pulled the program, saying they would re-evaluate this policy. No apology for “bad judgment,” just a swift-but-ambiguous retreat.

Ambiguous? Yup, I remember their conclusion… they’d reassess before releasing the next version of this program.

A politician’s answer.

Naturally, we suspected they’d never try it again. But their response was as telling as their action…

1) They knew this was bad. It’s just that they could not resist the easy grab. Why would I make this speculation?

2) They pulled it within hours. A huge company like Google simply can’t reverse course that quickly UNLESS they already had a contingency plan in place. It would take meetings, decisions, technical work, etc. It’s just too much to do within hours for a large company, if unprepared.

The existence of a contingency plan means that some version of this discussion had occurred…

“Fellow Google executives, we know this is wrong. But we can’t avoid the “what if” question… ‘What if the objections are few and far between? It would be a huge bonanza.’”

From there, “group think” took over and somehow, the wrong voices prevailed.

They tried to swindle us out of our traffic.

Score a big win for bloggers!  :-)

Well, yesterday, Facebook tried a similar move. It announced that it will let third-party applications access your contact information. It went on to say…

“Because this is sensitive information… permissions must be explicitly granted to your application by the user via our standard permissions dialogs.”

I’ll skip the details, but the process and wording were not going to be making things very clear, nor was it clear that FB would now be sharing information that it never did before. Millions of folks would be inadvertently giving all their private info to third parties, developers they don’t know.

Facebook, of course, could argue that you still had to give permission by clicking the “Allow” button. True, but you can bet your bottom dollar that many would not realize what they were doing. And, over time, the process and wording would be obfuscated and re-positioned to increase the un-intended surrender of privacy as much as possible.

Another uproar ensued, although not as loud as the Google fiasco (hey, money is more important than privacy to most nowadays, I’m afraid).

So Facebook posted THEIR retraction on the FB developer blog yesterday…

“Over the weekend, we got some useful feedback that we could make people more clearly aware of when they are granting access to this data. We agree, and we are making changes to help ensure you only share this information when you intend to do so. We’ll be working to launch these updates as soon as possible, and will be temporarily disabling this feature until those changes are ready. We look forward to re-enabling this improved feature in the next few weeks.”

No specifics, just a tactical retreat.

This time, you CAN expect FB to come back with another attempt. And frankly, as long as it’s VERY CLEAR AND UNMISTAKABLE WHAT YOU ARE GIVING TO A THIRD PARTY, I have no problem with it.

Of course, this is not FB’s first privacy mis-step. For example, this is nowhere near what Facebook Beacon was, in terms of privacy violation. Within 10 days, 50,000 people joined a Facebook group that sprung up to fight it (I love the irony). Even after FB claimed they had stopped the practice, it was discovered that the practice continued. The full story is here…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facebook_Beacon

Ultimately, it stopped. But it was due to continued pressure and legal action, NOT out of a sense of what is right or wrong.

Bottom line?

In the “real” world, theft is theft and fraud is fraud. It is somehow more tangible, whether it’s at the point of a gun or at the sight of your empty bank account thanks to Bernie Madoff.

Online, it’s less visible, softer somehow, more “conceptual.” But being online does not convert doing wrong into being right.

Big companies, seeking ever-greater profits, are not “big companies.”They are people, and sometimes they are the wrong people, making immoral decisions, to make more money.

They know it, too.

They just somehow fool themselves into thinking it’s OK.

Is it Enron? No, not nearly.

But it’s the beginning of a slippery slope if it’s not stopped in its tracks. And THAT is where we have good news…

The Web is the ultimate communication medium. It allows us “little folk” to rally behind the people who…

1) keep a close eye on matters such as this, and

2) take the time to rally us and create a loud enough uproar to cause the company, out of embarrassment and nothing else, to back down.

I love Google. I’m loving Facebook more every day.

One organizes the world’s information and lets us find it.

The other has delivered a second major way to use the Web. To socialize, with profound ramifications that we’re only beginning to understand.

My love of these companies, though, does not give them the right to
_ _ _ _ me.

That, fellow SBIers, is how I lost my virginity online.  ;-)

I thank those who stand by, ready to fight the good fight.

If you feel the same way, drop a line here and let them how you feel.

All the best,

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Harvey Chapman

    That’s the best joke I’ve heard in ages.
    No, not the content…
    The headline, and then the punchline right at the end.
    Brilliant!
    Regarding the content…
    To be honest, I don’t particularly follow these things so I didn’t know anything about this. (I rely on SBI! to inform me of anything that matters.)
    I do, however, have very similar feelings about PayPal and, to a lesser extent, eBay.
    I started out loving both companies. But the bigger they became, the less they seemed to care about the millions of ordinary sellers out there.
    Their policy seems to be “guilty until proven innocent” (that’s my experience, anyway), and to make matters worse they don’t even feel the need to answer any reasonable questions you might have.
    Anyway, I stopped using eBay years ago, and I will soon stop using PayPal.
    I’m only one person but, not being an influential blogger, it’s the only way I know to protest.

  2. Catherine Howard

    Ken,
    I could read your articles all day long!
    Thanks for this cutting edge information.
    Sincerely,
    Catherine

Comments are closed.