How do you know when a tech news item is big enough to break out of the tech world bubble and reach the mainstream audience? When it’s mentioned on the local news. So when a report of Facebook’s psychology research aired last night I realized that this was bigger than I thought. When tech bloggers were up in arms over the weekend and taking sides, I was sure this debate would play out within the industry. Evidently that is not the case.
Why is this a breakout case? I’m not sure, but I think it’s mostly about the gap between what users expect of Facebook and what Facebook really does.
- Users don’t really realize just how much information Facebook (and, to be fair, all the other Internet companies) has amassed about them.
- Users think that all the information that Facebook has is information they have supplied voluntarily. Many don’t realize that most of the information is gathered passively from web sites they visit, pages they like, stores they shop at, apps they download, blogs they comment on, etc.
- Users believe they can control what happens to their data. They don’t really realize who is sharing what with what third-party.
- Users think that their online presence belongs to them because they have invested their time and energy in making it special. On Facebook, users have made an effort to make connections, share photos, expand their profile, etc,but their profile doesn’t belong to them and Facebook can kick them out at any moment.
- Users expect every status they share to reach all their friends. They assume they are seeing everything their friends post. This is not the case at all and wasn’t like that before the study came out, but the manipulation is more obvious now.
None of this is news so why am I writing this post? My point is that Facebook’s actions are now a bit more obviously conflicting with its users’ expectations, and they’ve adopted a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. This isn’t unique to Facebook and we all know the adage of the internet age: if you are not paying for a product, you are the product.
Bottom line is that users are not the group that Facebook is trying to please. At the end of the day, that could cause problems. Right now Facebook feels like it’s too big to fail. Let’s wait and see what happens.